Capitals' Troy Brouwer: 'We're Playing Better Team Hockey'Posted on March 24, 2014 by Ken Maguire
Coming off a successful West Coast trip, the Washington Capitals are brimming with confidence despite still being on the bubble of qualification to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Caps (79 points) have 10 games remaining during the regular season. They trail the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs (80 points each) for a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Capitals earned five of six possible points in California. They defeated the San Jose Sharks, 3-2, during a shootout March 22 to cap a trip that included a 3-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks and a 2-1 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
"To be able to get five out of six points on [the road trip] is a big confidence builder for us," Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said after practice March 24. "It's a big moral boost as well."
The Caps will host the Kings March 25 and the Boston Bruins March 29, before playing March 30 at the Nashville Predators. The final seven games are one against Dallas at home, a four-game road trip with a stop in St. Louis, and home games against Chicago and Tampa Bay.
Washington is 4-0-1 during its past five games. The Leafs, who currently hold the final playoff spot, have lost five consecutive games, beginning with their 4-2 loss to the Capitals at Verizon Center March 16.
The Columbus Blue Jackets (78 points during 71 games) are on Washington's heels, and the New Jersey Devils have 75 points with 10 games remaining.
Brouwer and other players said the mood on Washington's bench was more positive than it had been before, especially after giving up a goal.
"Guys aren't getting deflated on the bench," said Brouwer, who has 21 goals and 14 assists this season. "They want to make it their objective to get that goal back.
"That might have been a little difference earlier in the season. We were getting scored on in bunches. Right now, guys want to be the man. They want to be the go-to guy. Everyone here is contributing and doing what they need to do. As a result, we're playing better team hockey."
Head coach Adam Oates said the team had been playing well for some time now, with the exception of a few bad periods here and there. Winning games breeds confidence, he said.
"Going on the trip, winning the two games prior to that helped," Oates said. "Having a good start in Anaheim helped. Hopefully, the guys do have a little swagger, under control."
Oates said he's not worried about scoring fewer goals, as long as the team is winning.
Captain Alex Ovechkin, for example, hasn't scored an even-strength goal since Feb. 27, the first game back from the Winter Olympic break. He's scored five power-play goals since then. Ovechkin leads the NHL with 46 goals, 20 of which have come on the power play.
Oates has inserted center Jay Beagle on Ovechkin's line, with regular first-line winger Marcus Johansson. He moved center Nicklas Backstrom to a line with Brouwer and rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov.
While Ovechkin has struggled to score at full strength, he has found other ways to contribute, Oates said.
"He blocked a shot with two minutes left in the third the other night," Oates said. "I don't think those matter to him as much as it should sometimes, but to the rest of the guys, and to us, it does.
"He's got to realize that more and more this time of year, goals are getting harder to come by."
Oates did not name his starting goalie, but said he expected Jaroslav Halak to be ready. Halak was the scheduled starter for the San Jose game, but sat out with a lower-body injury. Braden Holtby performed well in his place.
Halak, acquired at the trade deadline, practiced with the team March 24.
"I think he's fine and he should be ready to play tomorrow, if we need him," Oates said. "Got to make sure he's OK, after the skate."
Holtby made 34 saves for the victory against the Sharks.
"He played great," Oates said. "Both goalies played great on the trip. It's a good feeling for the team. It had been a while since [Holtby] played. He did a great job in a very tough environment."