Take Troy Brouwer to #TheBank

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Photo: @tbrouwer20

The struggles of Troy Brouwer have been a long-running subplot in our weekly stat snapshot series. With just two goals and one assist at 5-on-5, Brouwer’s production has been way below what had been expected for him, and his underlying stats have been among the lowest on the team. Indeed, the numbers have been quite unkind to Troy, and at times they have even endangered our friendship with the Brouwer Rangers.

But I think it’s all about to turn around.

As I discussed in Sunday’s snapshot, and as Y.B.J.P. mentioned on Thursday, Troy’s imminent rebound is thanks to his recent divorce from Brooks Laich.

To recap: Brouwer’s puck-possession numbers have been in the basement all year, but they’ve been masked thanks to the excellent Capitals goaltending he’s seen while on-ice. He’s spent the majority of his 5v5 time with Brooks Laich, who has also been struggling. In hopes that he’d turn things around, Martin Erat was assigned as their center for a while. When that didn’t work, Adam Oates tried– and I hope you’re sitting down for this– swapping Erat and Laich at center and wing. Yeah, that did nothing.

Speaking with CSN’s Chuck Gormley at the beginning of the month, Brouwer had a good attitude about his struggles:

“You know things are going to turn around if you just keep working hard and doing the right things.”

That’s true, but in addition to perseverance, it would probably help to have good linemates.

Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer skated together for almost four hours of hockey, and they got positively walloped for the duration. While on ice together, only 43.6% of 5v5 shot attempts and 45.5% of goals belonged to the Caps. Dubbed the Black Hole Line, Laich, Brouwer, and the Siege Perilous were routinely unable to establish quality zone time. As a result, Brouwer– once known as a kanooblian net-crasher– now has the highest average shot distance among all Capitals forwards. It just wasn’t working.

Not sure why, but Adam Oates finally split Laich and Brouwer up for the Maple Leafs game on November 23rd. Laich’s lingering groin injury re-asserted itself a couple days later. The two haven’t played together since, and Brouwer’s fortunes have changed dramatically.

This next chart shows the difference in 5v5 shot attempts when Troy and Brooks are on ice compared to shot attempts when they’re off.  If the bar goes up, that means they improved the team’s possession while playing. If not, that means they dragged it down. The yellow shade shows the percentage of time Troy spent with Brooks.

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Laich and Brouwer were split up after game 23. After bringing down the team’s puck possession in all but four games, Brouwer has been pulling it up ever since, and he’s tilted the ice in the Caps’ favor (i.e. shot attempt % > 50) in every game except for Tuesday’s game against the Lightning.

Apart from Laich, Brouwer’s on-ice shot attempt percentage is 54.1%. That’s a stunning improvement for a player who has been in the red since 2011 and was a startling 43.6% with Laich.

I’d bet his new linemates have a lot to do with that turnaround.

Mikhail Grabovski and Eric Fehr have been Brouwer’s most common linemates since game 25. Individually, Fehr and Grabovski have put 51.6% and 50.1% of shot attempts in the Caps’ favor this season– and that’s despite lots of bottom-six assignments early in the season. Since they’ve been together and on the second line, Fehr and Grabo have combined for –wait for it– 58.2% puck possession. Boom.

That’s why we’re now seeing series like this one, where Brouwer converted following an extended offensive-zone session:

Or this one, where a nice Grabovski pass gave Fehr and Brouwer a pair of golden chances to score:

Or this one, where a clean zone entry by Grabovski set Brouwer up again:

Detecting a pattern? With Grabovski’s puck-handling skills and Fehr and Brouwer’s proclivity to shoot, the Caps’ second line is now a bona fide scoring threat. They’re among the top 15 most productive lines over the last 10 games, and they’re primed to climb even higher.

You can chalk it up to Troy Brouwer’s relentlessly positive attitude. Or the mysterious synergies of line formulations. Or the opposite-of-a-pyrrhic-victory that was Brooks Laich’s #brittlegroin. Or the not-a-day-too-soon discovery by Adam Oates that Fehr and Grabo are true top-six talents. Whatever the reason, Troy Brouwer is about to make stuff happen.

Take it to the bank. Or the disco.

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Post script: While it’s tempting, I don’t think these data should be used to trash Laich. His on-ice performance has been dreary, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad player– just a player who is performing badly right now. The groin injury that kept him out of all but 9 games last season only flared back up last month, but Brooks indicated to Katie Carrera that he had been feeling tightness for days before it became untenable. Laich’s skating may have been hindered without his knowing. He has never been known for strong puck possession, but Laich has often been a solid two-way forward and excellent penalty killer. If he can return to health and find complementary linemates, Laich may find a renaissance of his own.

Just keep him away from Troy.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    http://imgur.com/tRJdXF7 does this work

  • Benjamin Scarbro

    I’m assuming you need the link ending in .gif (hard “G”)

    http://i.imgur.com/tRJdXF7.gif

  • Brouwer Rangers
  • Brouwer Rangers
  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Haha now there are two.

    P.S. – we cool now?

  • Benjamin Scarbro

    Maybe a third one just to make sure we are all on the same page…

    http://i.imgur.com/tRJdXF7.gif

  • Brouwer Rangers

    We may not like you all the time, but we always love you. But now we also like you.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    make it stop make it stop make it stop

  • Brouwer Rangers

    One more for good measure. http://i.imgur.com/TAQmYxH.gif

  • Benjamin Scarbro

    Making it “stop”, Peter, is the very antithesis of gifs.

  • Shaun Phillips

    Do you put Laich back with Ward and Chimer for meat & potatoes v3.0 or on the 4th line (scratch volpatti and either Laich or Beagle on the wing)? Personally, I’d swap Mojo and Erat and put Laich on 4, but then again that’s why Oates gets paid the big bucks. :)

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Tough one. I always preferred Laich as 3C, but I like Chimera-Erat-Ward too much to split em up. I’d rather see Laich on the 4th– getting limited 5v5 minutes and doing a ton of PKing. That’s– of course– assuming he’s healthy.

  • Shaun Phillips

    Great minds think alike. Unfortunately, simple minds do too. Not sure which one we qualify as.

  • CapsCast

    Good points and spot-on. Brouwer has been pretty bad so far this season. How many more one-timer whiffs in front on the PP can he possibly make before he gets replaced? To be fair, last season he played really well and did everything he was asked to do and more.
    Although I’d love to see it happen, I’m not sure I’d take it to the bank, it might be better to take it to the check-cashing/ pay-day loan place across from the liquor store.

  • Red

    Had to look up that Siege Perilous reference. You dug deep with that one Peter. Surprise learnin’ is the best learnin’.

  • Myan

    I hate to say it, but I hope that GM trades him though we probably can’t get much for him at this point. Someone’s pointed it out earlier in the season: Brouwer’s never been a great possession player so his bread & butter has always been finishing. He hasn’t been finishing these last 10 weeks. How many times is he going to shit the bed on the PP when Mojo or Backstrom give him the puck RIGHT IN FRONT OF NET? He doesn’t even screen the goalie…he’s a pylon in the slot and his recent “performance” on the PP doesn’t demand any coverage from penalty killers. I’d like to see Fehr in his spot on the PP. I’d love it even more if Oates benched him for a game or two and just let him watch from the press box. Recognize patterns in the play and see the ice from a different perspective. My idea scenario: Oates benches Brouwer for a few games, Brouwer comes back better, scores a few goals, notches a few more assists at 5v5 to get his trade value up…we trade him and get Matt Moulson :D Never going to happen but a girl can have dreams :)

  • Red

    Holy glitter Batman!

  • James Desautels

    i cant be the only one out there who realizes the truth of these damning stats against BL21 and feel terrible for knowing them. its like once you open the box you cant put it back in. the dude is a true heart and soul kinda guy and he has been here through it all. as rough as his year has been we have to ride it out with him.

  • Brouwer Rangers