When Troy Brouwer signed a three-year, $11 million contract extension with the Washington Capitals, general manager George McPhee cited the big right wing's physicality and power. Goal-scoring wasn't a necessity or a priority.
But almost a third of the way through the season, Brouwer leads the Caps in goals, with more than Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and other players expected to put the puck in the net.
"The other guys must be doing something right," Brouwer said. "But I'm not passing up shots this year. I feel like maybe I tried to make that one extra pass last year and, as a result, wasn't getting goals. This year [I'm] shooting the puck and just making sure I'm in good areas."
Brouwer has had goal-scorer's goals, like picking a corner on Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and sniping a shot past the Florida Panthers' Jose Theodore. Then there was a one-timer last week from open ice right in front of the net that the 27-year-old knew would've been hard not to score on.
"He's in the right position at the right time," Backstrom said. "He has a good shot and he always goes to the net. He gets goals off rebounds and stuff like that. He's a very important player on our team. He's kind of the guy you want on the team."
"Nicky said that?" Brouwer asked rhetorically. But Backstrom's notion about being in the right place at the right time isn't a knock. There's a gift to being positionally sound.
Still, Brouwer isn't taking credit for that.
"Nicky's a skilled player and he's going to find you wherever you are on the ice. To him probably everybody's in a good area on the ice," Brouwer said. "He sees the ice well. As long as for guys like me and [left wing Wojtek Wolski] who are playing together with him, we find those soft areas where we can get a shot off and Nicky will get us the puck."
Going into Thursday night's game against the New Jersey Devils, Brouwer led the team with seven goals. He shot 20.6 percent in his first 15 games and has looked better offensively even without coach Adam Oates needing to recommend that Brouwer shoot more.
"His game has been very solid and he's playing with good players and the power play's clicked for him and he's been in the right spot for it and that's kind of the design of it," Oates said. "He's a big strong guy there that takes a beating, and it's not an easy job to be there."
But at 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds, Brouwer's built to be in front of the net, taking a pounding and setting screens in front of opposing goalies. But his only real deflection goal of the season came off his backside, not off his stick.
Instead, Brouwer has been scoring clean goals and earning the respect of opponents along the way.
"He's doing a great job and I'm happy to be the decoy sometimes," Wolski said with a laugh. "It's great that he's scoring, that he's helping us win, he's contributing, and we want to keep it going every single game."
When primary scoring is lacking as it has been for parts of this season, the Caps need Brouwer to light the lamp. Asked what's different from previous years, he credited "a little bit of puck luck," and, of course, Backstrom.
"I'm consistently playing with Nicky this year, which last year I was bouncing around a little," he said. "When you play with him, he's going to find you. He's going to make you look good. It's fun playing with him."
Backstrom said chemistry he and Brouwer developed while playing on a line with Ovechkin last year helped. But he also praised the right wing for not being afraid to shoot and use his size.
"He's the kind of guy you want on the team and a really good guy," Backstrom said. "He goes to the net, scores goals, doing all that dirty work."
Scoring a few times on the power play helped build up Brouwer's confidence, too. Now his teammates and coach hope the goals keep coming.
"[He's] doing a lot of little things correctly and the puck's bounced his way," Oates said. "And good, good for him. He deserves it."
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