Brouwer celebrates his first goal (Photo: Paul Frederiksen)
Coming soon to warmups near you: Ian Oland in spandex. With an empty-net goal against Toronto Sunday, Troy Brouwer netted his 20th goal of the season. Ian had a bet with the Brouwer Rangers that if Troy scored 20 this year, he would go to a game with Nathan and Ryan dressed in a red unitard. Time to buy a fanny pack.
“I’m excited!” Brouwer told me of Ian’s future gear.
Brouwer’s goal was made possible by a kind turn from Nicklas Backstrom. After Brouwer banked the puck off the boards from the defensive zone, Nicky followed the puck towards the net. The Swedish center neglected to touch the puck, allowing Brouwer to hit the milestone.
“That’s the most unselfish thing I’ve ever seen in hockey,” Brouwer said.
Only one line on the Capitals is made up entirely of double-digit scorers: the third line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward. As we’ve mentioned before, they have been Washington’s top scoring threat outside of Alex Ovechkin this season. Sunday, Ward tallied 20 goals for the first time in career, while also assisting on Chimera’s foot-goal earlier in the first period.
“My karma paid off,” Ward told me after the game. “For me, I just hide in the weeds and try to look for some loose pucks.”
Ward had already topped his previous career high of 17 goals on the first of the month in Boston. Always a solid checking line forward, the 33-year-old has taken off as an offensive force this season. He already has six more goals this year than he did in his first two seasons with the Caps combined (six in ’11-’12, eight in ’13). Caps head coach Adam Oates has also given Ward a prime spot down low on the power play this year, which accounted for his goal against the Leafs. Per your boy Mike Vogel, members of the third line have been on the ice for 10 of Washington’s last 13 goals.
“I’ve counted on Wardo and Chimmer all year long,” Oates. “They penalty kill, power play. Big bodies that we count on for a lot of minutes to get territory for us. It’s good to see them rewarded because you don’t get a lot of accolades based on that, doing grunt work.”
In Evgeny Kuznetsov’s first NHL game on Monday, he skated a little over 10 minutes on the fourth line, briefly seeing time on the power play. It was clear the young Russian was an NHL rookie playing on a team he had yet to practice with. Things got better the next day though. In Pittsburgh, Kuznetsov registered nearly 15 minutes of ice time, collecting three shots on goal. If not for a confounding leg save by Marc-Andre Fleury, the 21-year-old Russian would have scored his first NHL goal.
On Friday, Kuznetsov continued the trend. He picked up the first three points of his North American career. The 2010 first round pick collected the first two in just over three minutes, assisting on successive goals by Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson in the second period. He added the third on Washington’s go ahead goal in the third period. The Caps won 4-3.
“I hope we win today,” he told 15 members of Washington Capitals press corps gathered around his locker. “That’s first for me.”
“I wanna thank the @tblighting for this pretty sweet honor. Hockey has always been a hidden passion. Now ppl are gonna know my little secret #StayHungry” (from @simplyAJ10′s Instagram)
Up until recently, Baltimore and Washington had shared a sports legacy. Baltimore has always been a Capitals town. After the Colts and before the Ravens, Baltimore rooted for the Red Pandas. After the Senators and before the Nationals, Washington rooted for the Os.
The last fifteen years have shattered the detente, but nothing cuts deeper than this most recent, most foul betrayal by Baltimore’s own Adam Jones.
Down in Florida for spring training, the center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles was a special guest (“Social Captain”) of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that– for the record, and I just checked this — is not the Washington Capitals.
Eric Fehr celebrates his goal on Monday. (Photo: Rob Carr)
The Capitals have scored 185 goals this season. Alex Ovechkin has 44 of them. For most of the season, the team has struggled with secondary scoring. Lately, however, some of their complementary players are coming alive.
Troy Brouwer has eight goals in 11 games. Brooks Laich had goals in two straight games coming into Monday. Though Laich has being missing practices and morning skates due to a lingering groin injury, he played great against the Penguins, scoring a goal that was later credited to Nick Backstrom. Laich did register an assist, marking his third straight game with a point.
Monday, the third line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward provided half of the Capitals’ offense in a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh. They greatly titled the ice in their favor, scoring the Caps’ first goal early in the game.
“I thought Fehrsie’s line might’ve had the best game they’ve had all year,” head coach Adam Oates said. “You feel it on the bench. You hear the guys talking on the bench. Your job is to try to have the next line follow and keep it going.”
At Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Sunday morning, a dozen reporters and three photographers watched EvgenyKuznetsov skate around for 45 minutes. It was eight in the morning and he was the only player on the ice. Fans held up signs welcoming him in Russian and wore his KHL jersey in the stands. The day before, Kuznetsov had signed a two-year entry-level contract with Washington, ending a four year battle to bring him over from the KHL after being drafted 26th overall by the Capitals in 2010.
“My contract is over,” Kuznetsov told reporters gathered in the Kettler conference room. “I’m excited. All is good.”
“Any hockey player wants to play in the NHL, wants to win the Cup,” he added. “It’s my dream to play in the NHL. I’m happy to see you. I’m ready 100 percent. I want to play.”