Troy Brouwer had gotten all too used to the puck bouncing off his stick. Or hitting the post, or an opposing goaltender’s pads. Or missing the net entirely.
Fourteen games the Washington Capitals right wing went without a goal, making his hat trick Jan. 14 seem like part of a vintage highlight reel. On Tuesday morning, Caps play-by-play man Joe Beninati brought it all up.
“It’s frustrating. I was talking to Joe B., today, this morning, and he was filling me in on all my lack of stats,” Brouwer said.
It’s not like the 26-year-old wasn’t plenty aware, too. But less than 12 hours later, he had more than enough on the stat sheet to make up for weeks of frustration. Brouwer scored two goals in the final four minutes of regulation to spurn a 3-2 comeback victory over the New York Islanders.
Really, it was about time the big right wing put the puck in the net.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit lately, and it’s nice to break out in such dramatic fashion,” Brouwer said. “Two big points by the team is what’s most important.”
Brouwer is a team guy, more than willing to step up and talk about the Caps’ failures when they get humiliated and happy to talk about teammates’ success. But his scoring slump, coupled with losing, was starting to wear on him.
But he got out of it in quite “dramatic fashion,” by beating Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov twice - first thanks to a perfect centering pass by Mathieu Perreault and second by deflecting a shot by Brooks Laich.
Coach Dale Hunter said it would take a “special” play to beat Nabokov, and Brouwer made two of them. That he scored twice in 3:30 after going 14 games without a single goal wasn’t all that shocking to Hunter.
“That’s hockey for ya,” he said. “He stopped at the net. Where he got his goals are 2 feet away from the top of the blue. You stay around the net, good things will happen. And he’s been doing it a lot, but he had some bad breaks hitting posts, and tonight he got rewarded for it.”
Several players have broken out of scoring doldrums lately, including Jason Chimera and Jeff Halpern. Matt Hendricks needed until his 30th game of this season to score his first, so he can more than empathize with Brouwer, and share in the joy that comes with finally lighting the lamp.
“He plays the same way every night. He’s not the kind of guy that has end-to-end rushes, goes through players, stick-handles through guys and scores,” Hendricks said of Brouwer. “He’s meat and potatoes. He goes to the net hard and both his goals were because of that. It’s paying off now.”
Acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in June’s draft for a first-round pick and then signed to a two-year, $4.7 million contract, Brouwer has dealt with expectations in his first season with the Caps. As right wing Mike Knuble’s role has been reduced, teammates talked up Brouwer as a very similar player. More than likely, he’s a Knuble replacement going forward.
But in order to fill those skates, Brouwer has to score. Knuble enjoyed eight straight 20-goal seasons dating to last year, and Brouwer is on pace to hit 22 this season, which would match a career high.
For now, he’ll happily take the two he scored Tuesday and go from there.
“It’s nice to be able to get out of it, especially when you’re struggling a little bit,” Brouwer said. “It just makes you feel better about yourself, makes you have a lot more confidence. Hopefully I can continue just playing solid hockey.”
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