Struggling Troy Brouwer says he can be better

Struggling Troy Brouwer says he can be better
December 6, 2013, 5:30 pm
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Caps week in review: 12.4.13

(Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Back in training camp, when he was asked which of his players might have a breakout season, Capitals coach Adam Oates said he hoped “a lot of guys” would have good seasons.

He then identified Troy Brouwer as an example, saying he wanted him driving to the rink every night believing he would score.

“To me, as a player that’s the ultimate compliment,” Oates said back in September. “I count on you, I’m going to play you a lot and I expect production.”

Twenty-eight games into the season Oates says he still has that same confidence in the Capitals’ 28-year-old right wing, who has just five goals and four assists this season, well off the pace he set last year when he finished with 19 goals and 14 assists in 47 games.

“I talked to him a week ago and I said, ‘You’re vital to us. Numbers are irrelevant,’” Oates said.

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“Play. That’s what I said to him -- play and relax. It helped when a coach said that to me if I went a game without a point.”

Last season was in fact, a breakout year for Brouwer. Prorated over an 82-game season, Brouwer’s numbers would have equated to 33 goals and 24 assists for a career-high 57 points over a full season.

At his current pace Brouwer would finish this season with 15 goals and 12 assists. He’s convinced that won’t be the case.

“I’ve been through it before,” said Brouwer, a seventh-round draft pick of the Blackhawks who fought his way up Chicago’s depth chart before getting traded to the Capitals in 2011. “There’s been stints I haven’t played as well as I’d like to or as well as my coaches demand of me.

“It’s tough to try and stay positive in situations like these, but you have to. You know you’re going to come out of it at some point. You know things are going to turn around if you just keep working hard and doing the right things.”

Last season, Brouwer was a constant alongside second-line center Mike Ribeiro, a magician with the puck who found Brouwer lurking in the high slot for one-timers. Brouwer played on the first-unit power play and first-unit penalty kill, averaging 18:32 in ice time and 2.3 shots a game.

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This season he’s been matched with a variety of linemates, including Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Mikhail Grabovski and Marcus Johnansson, and has averaged 1.5 shots per game while averaging 18:56 in ice time, third among Caps forwards behind Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

“You always have to change your game,” Brouwer said. “You always have to evolve, depending on who you’re playing with.

“Last year I was the shooter on my line. Ribeiro told me numerous times that when he passes the puck he doesn’t want it back. Shoot it and we’ll go after it. This year Fehr is a good shooter, Grabo’s scoring. It’s just a little bit different aspect to our line. I want to get better at what my linemates need me to do.”

On Saturday against the Nashville Predators Brouwer is expected to line up with Grabovski and Fehr for the fourth straight game.   

“I think me and Graboand Fehrsie have had some real good games, but individually I feel like I can do a little more and bring a little more for the line and I’m positive I’ll break out of it and be better,” Brouwer said. “Until then I have to work at it.”

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Brouwer identified two areas of his game that need work: controlling loose pucks in the corners and completing tape-to-tape outlet passes. As a line, Brouwer thinks the second unit can do a better job of having sustained pressure in the offensive zone.

“We’re getting shots, but not second chances,” he said. “Individually, we have to take shots that they give to us. We’ve talked about it a few times. We’ve given up shots trying to look for a better play. That’s the identity of our line is being able to get shots off and trying to recover pucks and continue to create pressure.”

Following the team’s practices on Thursday and Friday Brouwer stayed on the ice for extra work on the areas of his game that need improvement.

“I’m just out there tying to get better,” he said, “and trying to get more confidence.”