The night before Troy Brouwer was scheduled to make his NHL debut, a massive storm moved through the Midwest, canceling flights across the country and delaying arrivals from anywhere but the nation’s largest airports.
Having played that night in Norfolk, Brouwer drove three hours north to Washington, where he caught a flight to Denver that was later delayed. By the time he finally reached his destination late the next morning, the adrenaline had subsided to a point where he could be afforded his pregame nap, and then he played two minutes, 16 seconds for the Chicago Blackhawks on a line with Peter Bondra and Patrick Sharp before sitting on the bench the rest of the game.
Memories like those have been indelibly etched in Brouwer’s memory, and, on Tuesday, he created another one. Nine years after his debut, Brouwer played in his 500th game, which he celebrated by scoring two goals — one at even strength, one on the power play — to help the Washington Capitals claim a 4-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings at Verizon Center.
Braden Holtby had 27 saves for his sixth shutout of the season, and Nicklas Backstrom and Eric Fehr also scored for the Capitals (26-15-10), who had lost six of their previous seven games and had not defeated the Kings, the defending Stanley Cup champions, since 2007.
Yet the night belonged to Brouwer, who was drafted in the seventh round by the Blackhawks in 2004, was traded to the Capitals prior to the 2011-12 season and has carried a survivor’s mentality throughout his career.
“I mean, it’s kind of cliché to say it, but being a late-round draft pick, not too many expectations out of myself, you know, I was happy with one [game],” Brouwer said. “Now, looking forward to 500, you know, it’s been a long, good career for myself. Hopefully, there’s many more years to come.”
Brouwer’s goals reinforced one of the Capitals’ better games this season — one in which they minimized scoring chances, exercised smart shot selection and largely played within the structure of their system.
Between Backstrom, Brouwer and Fehr, the Capitals’ top three lines, which were reconfigured by coach Barry Trotz that morning, all scored even-strength goals. They even had three solid opportunities late in the second period on a voracious penalty kill.
“I thought it was a really good job by us by keeping good structure all night and not trying to force things that weren’t there, because one thing L.A. is really good at is they can turn something from nothing into a good scoring chance,” Trotz said. “They’re a good transitional team at times, especially if you don’t manage the lines and respect the lines. I thought we did that.”
Brouwer’s first goal came 17:11 into the first period, when Evgeny Kuznetsov dug out a pass from Karl Alzner in the left corner and, in turn, spun around and passed it up to Brouwer. The timing of the pass froze Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who was still guarding the near post when Brouwer rifled a one-timer into the far side of the net.
He added the second goal 16:36 into the second period, just nine seconds after a 4-on-3 advantage had ended, when Mike Green’s attempt from the high slot grazed off Brouwer and deflected past Quick into the net. And he almost netted a third goal, a short-hander, just over a minute later, with his wrister following a turnover in the Capitals’ offensive zone stopped by Quick.
Backstrom and Fehr scored easy goals within a minute of each other in the third period to keep the Capitals comfortably ahead. Quick was attempting to play the puck behind the net when Robyn Regehr’s errant pass went directly to Alex Ovechkin, who passed the puck across to Marcus Johansson before Johansson teed up Backstrom.
Just 59 seconds later, at 6:49, Joel Ward poked the puck away from Brayden McNabb at his own blue line, allowing Fehr to shuck it past Quick.
Holtby was rarely challenged by the Kings (21-17-12), who committed numerous turnovers and had several defensive lapses. With the victory, Holtby, in his third full season, reached a career high with 24 victories.
Quick, meanwhile, had just 23 saves for Los Angeles, which has now dropped six of its last seven games and has still only won five of its 22 road games this season.
After Washington defeated the Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at Nationals Park on Jan. 1, Brouwer returned home to a celebration for his family, which included his parents, Don and Kathy, watching him play for the Capitals for the first time.
Brouwer’s wife, Carmen, had previously planned a similar gathering following Tuesday’s game, and the victory allowed teammates to stop by and not feel guilty about a celebration.
“You always know when you’re playing the little milestone games,” Brouwer said. “But, for me, you want to look forward. It’s a great accomplishment to have, but you want to continue to go forward, and I look forward to 600, 700, 800, and hopefully a Stanley Cup here in Washington. Those are the goals, and those are the milestones, that you really want to reach.”