Theme: “If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time - a tremendous whack.”
-- Winston Churchill
(click pic for larger image)
Troy Brouwer has recorded 840 hits in 320 regular season games in the NHL, another 163 in 57 playoff games. Not all of them were “tremendous whacks,” perhaps, but Brouwer is a player whose job description includes announcing his presence with authority. It was a part of the dirt-under-the-fingernails sort of tasks that show up on the right side of the event summary published after NHL games, not the left side, the side where the scoring is published.
Brouwer led the Caps in hits in the regular season, was second among forwards in blocked shots, was third among forwards in takeaways, and had the third best ratio of takeaways to giveaways among Capital forwards.
But then there is this. Brouwer was on ice for the second greatest number of goals scored against Caps forwards this season, tied for second in goals scored against at even strength. For a player who is primarily (although not exclusively) a second-third liner, one might want better evidence of defense than that. He was tied for last on the team in plus-minus (minus-15, with Mike Knuble and John Carlson) and was tied for 847th among 894 skaters in the NHL. Whatever you think of plus-minus as a statistic, those are not good numbers.
And is not as if he did not have a perverse consistency in putting up that plus-minus number. He was a minus player in six of his ten-game splits despite being a reasonably consistent scorer. Through the first half, anyway. Brouwer’s play cleaved into three pieces this season. There was the blush of being on a new team and impressing early. He was 2-3-5, plus-3, with 42 hits in his first ten-game segment. That first blush wearing off (and the Caps going into a tailspin generally), he was 13-8-21, minus-5, with 124 hits over his next four ten-game segments. But the last 32 games; they did not go well – 3-4-7, minus-13, with 81 hits.
One mitigating factor in Brouwer’s unfortunate plus-minus result was his facing quality competition, second only to Brooks Laich among Caps forwards at 5-on-5 (numbers from behindthenet.ca). There was also the matter of zone starts. His offense zone starts (46.7 percent at 5-on-5) surpassed players who were generally fourth-liners for the Caps (such as: Mike Knuble, Joel Ward, Matt Hendricks, Jay Beagle, and Jeff Halpern). There was also the matter of his Corsi values, which in absolute terms were hardly poor when on ice (ninth among 15 forwards playing in at least 20 games), and that when evaluated in the context of quality of competition were good (second among these forwards). But the Caps goaltenders save percentage when Brouwer was on the ice was awful at 5-on-5. The .898 save percentage was worst on the team.
Taken together it paints a picture of a player who might not spend a of time in the defensive end, but when he does bad things seem to ensue. Perhaps it is as simple as a lack of awareness at that end. And this might be a fundamental problem. It is not unique to this season. This year Brouwer had a PDO value (shooting percentage plus save percentage on ice) of 981 this year, largely driven by that .898 save percentage. Last year in Chicago, those numbers were 974 and .885. Even in the Stanley Cup-winning 2009-2010 season he was under 1000 – 997, but that was third among Blackhawk forwards playing in at least 20 games, and the save percentage on ice was a respectable.913. Speaking of comparisons, here is how Brouwer’s numbers compare to last season with Chicago:
Odd Brouwer Fact… Troy Brouwer had five game-winning goals in his first 42 games. He had four goals in total over his last 40 games, none of the game-winning variety.
Game to Remember… January 13th, 2012. In three games after Nicklas Backstrom left the lineup after suffering a concussion, the Caps had trouble scoring goals. They totaled only five goals in three games – a pair of 5-2 losses (to San Jose and Los Angeles) and a 1-0 win over Pittsburgh. But the Caps were being given a chance to get well against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team visiting Verizon Center on a five-game losing streak of their own. Alex Ovechkin started things off with a power play goal 3:52 into the game, but Troy Brouwer took over from there. He got his first on just 1:53 after Ovechkin’s goal when he wristed a shot from a tough angle over goalie Dwayne Roloson’s right shoulder. He got his second when Brooks Laich settled a puck at his feet and fired a shot at Roloson that the goalie kicked out into the slot, just where Brouwer was standing. Brouwer sent the gift into the open net for his second goal. He completed his first pro hat trick with an empty netter with 60 seconds left to give the Caps a 4-2 lead. Vincent Lecavalier scored for the Lightning with 10.2 seconds left, but it was too little, and Brouwer ended up with the game-winning goal in the 4-2 win.
Game to Forget… January 7, 2012. In San Jose against the Sharks, the Caps had just tied the game, 2-2, only 44 seconds into the third period on a goal by Joel Ward. But on the next shift, Brouwer got caught going in the wrong direction in his own end, leaving a passing lane for Dan Boyle, who found Joe Thornton all alone to the right of Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun. Thornton backhanded a pass to Patrick Marleau, and 16 seconds after the Caps knotted the game, they were behind again. There would not be another comeback. The Sharks scored the last three goals for a 5-2 win (Brouwer having been on ice for two of them).
Post Season… Brouwer had the first goal in the Caps 2-1 double overtime win in Game 2 of their opening round series against Boston, then had the game-winner with just 1:27 left in regulation in Game 5 to give the Caps a 4-3 win and a 3-2 lead in games. But after that he went cold. He would not score another goal in any of the last nine playoff games for the Caps. He did have two assists in Game 5 of the Ranger series, but that went for naught when the Caps allowed a power play goal with 7.6 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, then lost it 1:35 into overtime.
In the end… In one sense, the Caps got what was advertised for Brouwer – a physical player who could punish opposing puck carriers and pitch in the occasional goal (he finished fourth on the team with 18 goals). He did not contribute as much on the power play (three goals) as he did in Chicago last season (seven goals), despite having almost identical ice time with the man-advantage (just over two minutes per game). That might have been a reflection of a generally inconsistent power play for the Caps, though. What was a bit surprising was that he was on ice for so many goals against. He was on ice for a total of 72 goals against this season compared to only 47 with the Blackhawks last season and 46 the year before. For the role he plays, that number has to be better going forward.