-- Robert Ballard
The 2013-2014 season…the 2014-2015 season. Eighty-two games…eighty-two games. Forty-three points…forty-three points. For Troy Brouwer, this season looked like an instant replay (to the extent a six-month season can be “instant”). That is not an altogether bad thing. It is not an altogether good thing, either.
On the good side, the 82 games that Brouwer played marked the third time in four seasons with the Caps that he appeared in every game. In fact, he has missed just one game – regular season or playoff – in his four years with the club. The 43 points in 2014-2015 tied his career high, set last season. His shooting percentage reached double digits (10.0) for the fourth straight season. Brouwer’s eight power play goals was second best on the club. His plus-11 reversed a four-year streak of finishing on the minus side of the plus-minus ledger. He had 206 hits, second best among Capital forwards and the third straight full season with the Caps (not counting the abbreviated 2012-2013 season) in which he topped 200 hits. Brouwer’s 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage (50.5) was the first time he finished on the good side of 50 percent as a Capital. His faceoff winning percentage (56.9) led all Capitals who played for the club all season and would have been fifth-best in the league, if he qualified, somewhat unusual for a winger.
Oh, and there was this, too…
There was another side to Brouwer’s season, though. In 19 games in which he recorded a goal, the Caps were just 8-7-4. His 5-on-5 Corsi percentage/relative was minus-0.8. While that was not a significant drop off from his previous season (plus-0.2), being on the minus side of the ledger is not the best place for a scoring line winger to be. His Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5, while respectable (50.8) lagged Michael Latta (51.0), Tom Wilson (52.6), and Andre Burakovsky (54.6) among forwards with at least 200 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. On what was the strongest power play in the league, Brouwer had 240 scoring chances (numbers from war-on-ice.com) and scored eight goals, a conversion rate of 3.3 percent. Compare that to Alex Ovechkin, who scored 25 power play goals with 293 scoring chances, an 8.5 percent rate. Even Joel Ward, who played much the same position as Brouwer when deployed on the power play, had six goals on 99 scoring chances, a 6.1 percent rate.
The odd part about Brouwer’s performance, at least in the regular season, was the apparent consistency. Despite an underlying drop-off in his performance numbers late in the season (we will get to that in a bit), his ten-game segments varied little in points, ranging from four to seven points overall. Only once in his eight segments did he experience an on-ice minus in goal differential (all situations, numbers from war-on-ice.com). There was, disturbingly as it turned out, the drying up of his power play scoring late in the season. In the underlying numbers, his season breaks down into two roughly equal pieces, a plus-146 in Corsi differential (all situations) in the first four segments, a plus-69 in the last four segments. Scoring chances followed a similar pattern – plus-86 in the first four segments, plus-29 in the last four. Oddly enough, again, his on-ice goal differential was flipped – plus-15 in the first four segments, plus-21 in the last four.
Fearless’ Take: In his four seasons as a Capital, only defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner have played in more games (294) with the club than Troy Brouwer (293). Only Alex Ovechkin has more goals (174 to 83). Only Ovechkin (281), Nicklas Backstrom (249), and Marcus Johansson (159) have more points than Brouwer (152). Only Ovechkin (78) has more power play goals than Brouwer (30). He is tied with Joel Ward for the most shorthanded goals (3). And, he has 771 hits to his credit.
Cheerless’ Take: Okay, now try this line, cuz… 35 games, 3-6-9, minus-5, one power play goal. That is his postseason scoring line with the Caps. That works out to a 7-14-21, minus-12, with two power play goals per 82 games. You guys like to say I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but that doesn’t look like a good line for a second line winger.
Odd Brouwer Fact: Troy Brouwer recorded goals in 19 regular season games with the Caps in 2014-2015. The team had a record of only 8-7-4 in those games. Bonus fact… Brouwer skated fewer than 15 minutes in eight games for the Caps this season; the Caps won all of them.
Game to Remember: February 3rd versus Los Angeles. Oh sure, it would be easy to say the Winter Classic for the game-winning goal in the dying seconds of regulation, but there was that game in February. The Los Angeles Kings came to town desperately trying to get out of a rut that left them with a 3-5-5 record in the 13 games played after December 27th. Brouwer made sure that their February would not start on a higher note. Late in the first period, as a battle was going on for the puck in the corner to the right of goalie Jonathan Quick, Brouwer found himself all alone between the hash marks. Evgeny Kuznetsov found him, and all Brouwer had to do was pick a side to shoot the puck. He chose well, beating Quick to the glove side to give the Caps a 1-0 lead. Brouwer struck again, in a manner of speaking, late in the second period.
Game to Forget: November 20th against Colorado. It was an odd sort of game for Troy Brouwer. He was a shooting machine, recording a season-high six shots on goal (three of them in an eight second sequence in the second period). None of them got through, though. It was one of only three games (out of ten) in which he recorded four or more shots on goal and did not light the lamp. He was also credited with just one hit for the evening in what would be a 3-2 win over the Avalanche.
Postseason: 0-3-3, minus-3, 33 hits (one fewer than Marcus Johansson)
The postseason for Troy Brouwer was merely an extension of a slump that began well before the regular season ended. He did not record a goal in 14 postseason contests (the first time he went without a goal when playing in more than seven games in post season since 2008-2009). The streak was actually 17 games in all, and Brouwer managed only three goals in his last 34 games, including the playoffs. Despite recording more ice time on the power play than every forward except Alex Ovechkin, he managed one power play assist, a secondary helper in the Caps’ 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders in Game 6 of the opening round.
In the end…
The Caps need more out of the second line right wing position than they are getting. Even with the tying of a career high in points this season, Troy Brouwer’s post season made for a disappointing season. This should not be considered a surprise. In six post seasons covering 78 games he has seven goals, more than half of them (4) coming in 19 games in the 2010 Stanley Cup run by the Chicago Blackhawks.
There was a reasonably consistent baseline to Brouwer’s performance in 2014-2015, but it was not of a difference-making sort, and there was a sour finish, what appeared to be an inability to raise his game late in the season, especially in the playoffs. That the Caps finished 5-6 in the 11 games in which he did not record a point in the postseason suggests that just a little bit of improvement here could have been an element that pushed the Caps to another round of play. The same might be said of a number of Caps, but when it happens to a scoring line winger, it matters.
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