Sunday, September 23, 2012

Washington Capitals 2012-2013 Previews -- Forwards: Troy Brouwer

Troy Brouwer

Theme: “Ease his pain...”
--The Voice

So there he was, almost five minutes into overtime.  He had already launched eight shots on goal, four of them on net.  He had just stepped onto the ice and made his way to the top of the crease in front of New York Ranger goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.  As he got there the puck came out to him – right on the tape of his stick, courtesy of Matt Hendricks who fed the puck out from behind the Ranger goal line.  With Lundqvist hugging the right post to keep Hendricks from walking out and tucking the puck in, Brouwer had the entire left side of the net beckoning to him…”shoot here.”

He did.


Brouwer chipped the puck up and over Lundqvist’s glove as the goalie sprawled across the blue paint of the crease.  But the aim was not true.  The puck floated past the far post and off the end boards, the Rangers dodging a bullet.  The Rangers would win that game in triple-overtime, 2-1, to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semi-final playoff series, a series the Rangers would win in seven games.

Troy Brouwer came to the Capitals in June 2011 from the Chicago Blackhawks in a trade for the Caps’ first round pick in the 2011 draft.  He came to the Caps with a reputation for being a tough as nails sort who would hit, chip in some goals, and provide the gritty kind of play that helped the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup in 2010.  He was precisely as advertised.  In his last two seasons in Chicago, Brouwer averaged 19.5 goals, 38 points, 226 hits, and 41 blocked shots.  Last season with the Caps he had 18 goals, 33 points, 247 hits, and 60 blocked shots.  He tied for the team lead in game-winning goals (five).

What might not have been expected was that opponents managed to score in significant numbers with Brouwer on the ice.  He tied for a team-worst minus-15, and only Brooks Laich was on-ice for more goals scored against among Caps forwards.  Caps goaltenders had their worst 5-on-5 save percentage with Brouwer on the ice (.898).  The differential of goals scored against/on ice per 60 minutes to goals scored against/off ice per 60 minutes for Brouwer (-0.91) was the worst among the team’s forwards by far (numbers from  His 2011-2012 season cleaved into an odd and distressing two-part year.  In the 2011 portion of the season Brouwer was 10-8-18, plus-1 in 37 games.  However, in the 2012 portion of the season he was 8-7-15, minus-16 in 45 games.  Not exactly the finishing kick one would have hoped for.

Fearless’ Take…

There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place, and the universe opens itself for a few seconds, to show you what is possible…

Cheerless’ Take…

Oh my God, you’re from the playoffs!  Hey, Terence Mann, Mr. Rink of Dreams …he missed!  But it’s not like Mr. Gap-Toothed Goal Scorer didn’t flub his own chance when Anton Stralman couldn’t stick a fork in the puck to settle it down, and then Alex Ovechkin pickpocketed him and shot it off the post with five minutes left in the first OT.

Guys?... we’ll get to Alex Ovechkin another time.  This is about Troy Brouwer.  Caps fans… they never forget.  Anyway…

The Big Question… At this stage of his career, does Troy Brouwer become a Knublian Force?

Up until now, Troy Brouwer has been a perfectly fine complementary player, averaging 17.2 goals per 82 games over a career than has spanned parts of six seasons. Last year’s 18-goal total was right in line with that level of performance.  But Brouwer might get a long look as the full-time top-line right winger on this Caps team.  It was a spot at which he logged significant minutes last season, but one had the impression the Caps could have or wanted to do better. 

At the moment, though, Brouwer might have the inside track to play on the right side on a line with Alex Ovechkin and whichever center – Nicklas Backstrom or Mike Ribeiro – is penciled into the middle of it.  And that presents Brouwer with an opportunity to let him find his inner “Knuble” – to be a guy who does the dirty work of clogging the crease and collecting garbage goals.  It was good enough for the departed Mike Knuble to record 53 goals in 148 games in his first two seasons with the Caps. 

Here is how that opportunity might be realized.  In his last three seasons covering a span of 239 games Brouwer has not had less than a 13.5 percent shooting percentage and has averaged 15.4 percent efficiency over those three seasons on a total of 371 shots.  In 82 games last season Brouwer recorded more than two shots in a game only 20 times.  He was also sixth among Caps forwards in even-strength and power play ice time.  If he gets a bit more ice time and more shooting opportunities in those situations as a product of a more permanent role as the top-line right wing, the shooting efficiency he has demonstrated over the past three years could pay dividends.

In the end…

Joe Juneau, David Steckel, Troy Brouwer.  All of them Capitals who had a chance to win playoff games in overtime and didn’t.  Juneau missed a penalty shot in the second of what would be four overtimes in a 3-2 loss to the Penguins in the 1996 playoffs.  He redeemed himself by scoring the overtime goal against the Buffalo Sabres two years later than sent the Caps to their first and, to date, only Stanley Cup final.  Steckel missed an open net in Game 5 of the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals against Pittsburgh shortly before the Penguins won a 4-3 decision, but he redeemed himself 48 hours later by scoring the overtime game-winner in Game 6 in Pittsburgh and pushing the series to a seventh game.

Brouwer searches for his redeeming moment.  That moment when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place, and the universe opens itself for a few seconds, to show you what is possible.

Projection: 82 games, 19-19-38, minus-2

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Washington Capitals 2012-2013 Previews -- Forwards: Jay Beagle

Jay Beagle

Theme:  “ ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!”
-- Rocky Balboa

In the 2011-2012 season, Jay Beagle set NHL career highs in games played (41), goals (four), points (five), penalty minutes (23), shots on goal (49), hits (66), blocked shots (23), and face-off winning percentage (57.7 percent).  That probably does not sound impressive, considering that Beagle came into the 2011-2012 season with a total of 41 games of NHL experience.

No doubt it would have been a much more impressive setting of career highs for Beagle had he not walked into a right hand from Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham early in the third period of the Caps’ third game of the season (a 3-2 overtime win).  It started when Beagle tangled with Penguin defenseman Kris Letang along the boards at the Capitals’ blue line, knocking Letang’s helmet off.  Asham challenged Beagle to a bout, and Beagle, in what surely had to be among the worst decisions he made that day, took him up on the offer.  Beagle held his own for about ten seconds, but two overhand rights to Beagle’s cheekbone dropped the Capital forward to the ice.  Beagle would miss the next 31 games with a concussion.

It was very unfortunate for Beagle, but he returned to demonstrate an ability, not to be a high-end skill player, but a dependable fourth liner.  In 41 games he was a “minus” player only seven times.  He was 50 percent or better 24 times in 35 games in which he took faceoffs (57.7 percent on the season).  He was eighth among Capital forwards in hits despite playing only half a season.  He was charged with only six giveaways in 41 games.  And his being on ice for only 13 goals against in those 41 games left him with the best goals against-on-ice to games-played ratio of any Capital forward playing in at least 25 games.

It certainly earned him a promotion of sorts under Head Coach Dale Hunter.  In the post-season Beagle was sixth among Capital forwards in average ice time per game.  He was on ice for only four of the 27 goals scored against the Caps in the 12 playoff games he played.  In that 12th game he would block a power play shot from New York Ranger Anton Stralman off his left foot in the third minute of the second period of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.  Even though the shot broke Beagle’s foot, he would skate another 8:12 in that game (a 3-2 overtime loss).  However, it would be the last time he would skate for the season.

Fearless’ Take…

The Caps were 23-13-5 in the 41 regular season games in which Beagle played, 19-19-3 in the games in which he did not.  He did not score a lot, but he made it count when he did.  Twice his goals gave the Caps leads, and twice his goals gave the Caps a two-goal lead.  Of course, it might have been easier to score had Beagle not had the second lowest offensive zone start numbers (40.2 percent) at 5-on-5 among Capital forwards playing in at least 40 games (Jeff Halpern, 39.2 percent).  In spite of that, though, he had the sixth highest Corsi value relative to quality of competition among the 13 Caps forwards playing in at least 40 games (all numbers from  He became as much a “shutdown” forward as the Caps had, his 1.66 goals against/60 minutes at 5-on-5 being second best on the team to Joel Ward (1.49).

Cheerless’ Take…

One of the problems that the Caps had in the playoffs in recent years is getting nothing on the scoreboard from the third or fourth lines.  Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, Joel Ward … a total of three goals in 40 man-games in the 2012 playoffs. Beagle had one goal in 221 minutes of playoff ice time.  That is better than Boyd Gordon getting none in 116 minutes the previous year, but it would be good, given where Beagle is in his career, to chip in a little bit more without sacrificing at the defensive end.

The Big Question… Can Adam Oates work wonders – even small ones – with Beagle’s offense?

Jay Beagle has demonstrated an ability to play a solid, earnest game in his own end.  It did not go unnoticed when the playoffs started last season.  But at the other end, one wonders if someone can find the key to Beagle’s offense.  He had 47 goals in 211 regular season games over four seasons at Hershey.  Maybe there is something there that some tweaks will uncover.  Consider this.  New Jersey Devil David Clarkson compiled a total of 52 goals in 298 games in the NHL before last season.  As an assistant coach with the Devils last season Adam Oates showed Clarkson some video and suggested he shorten his stick.  Clarkson finished the season with 30 goals, obliterating his previous season high of 17.  This is not to say Oates can make Jay Beagle a 30-goal scorer, or even a 20-goal producer.  But if Oates can get Beagle to, say, double his production, those extra four goals could come in handy and at least make the fourth line a more credible threat.

In the end…

Jay Beagle might never be a star, but he could be a guy you win with.  He has played on two Calder Cup champions in the AHL, and he played on a champion in the ECHL (Idaho Steelheads in 2007).  The Caps record with him in the lineup last season projected to a 102-standings point pace (an 82-point pace without him).

Beagle sustained a concussion early in the season, came back, and was a solid performer who took on a bigger role in the playoffs.  In those playoffs he broke his foot, but the club saw enough in him to re-sign Beagle to a three-year, $2.7 million contract.  He says he feels no lingering effects from the injury that ended his season last year and looks forward to working with the new head coach.  Jay Beagle has taken some shots, gotten up, and moved forward.  Like Rocky said, “that’s how winning is done!”

Projection: 72 games, 8-7-15, plus-2

photo:  Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America