After winning each of their first two preseason games – both of them on the road – by identical 4-3 shootout scores, the Washington Capitals host the Boston Bruins in an exhibition contest on Tuesday night. The Caps and the defending Eastern Conference champions will do battle in the second annual Baltimore Hockey Classic at Baltimore Arena.
Washington will ice virtually the same team that downed the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night in Belleville, Ont. Caps captain Alex Ovechkin and alternate captains Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green will all be in the lineup for Washington on Tuesday in Charm City as will goaltender Braden Holtby and forwards Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson.
Playing with a pair of kids – left wing Nathan Walker and Chandler Stephenson –who were both playing in their first-ever NHL pre-season games, Brouwer had a goal and an assist in Saturday’s preseason opener.
“Those guys have been working hard, Stephenson and Walker,” notes Brouwer. “They’re good kids. They love being here, they’re very excited to be here and they’re having fun. It showed in their play the other night. They’re working hard and having fun and we were able to get a couple goals. I like those two kids and they looked good the other night.”
Stephenson played in Saturday’s game because newly signed pivot Mikhail Grabovski was hung up in Toronto with visa issues and Walker made the trip north because Brooks Laich injured his hip flexor shortly after the start of camp on Thursday. The two rookies have made the most of their opportunity, and they’ll both be in the lineup for Tuesday’s game in Baltimore.
“Those high draft picks like Tom Wilson are going to get lots of looks while the two guys on my line might never get those looks,” explains Brouwer. “Sometimes you need to be fortunate and have an injury to get the opportunity to go out there and show what you can do. I thought they played great and I thought we were maybe the best line on both teams for the majority of the night. Those things go a long way because now they’re on [Caps GM] George [McPhee’]s radar and who knows, now they might have a better opportunity to make the team than they would have before.”
As a seventh-round pick himself, Brouwer knows of what he speaks and he’s happy to pay it forward by showing Walker and Stephenson the ropes.
“Marty Lapointe really helped me along,” recalls Brouwer of his first NHL preseason action. “I played on a line with him and another prospect my age, it might have been Bryan Bickell.
“In my draft year there were 17 guys drafted to the Blackhawks. That’s when they weren’t doing very well. Cam Barker was our first-rounder that year, and from there we also had Dave Bolland, Bryan Bickell and Mike Blunden. There were a lot of good players drafted ahead of me. I was kind of in the same boat. I needed a good opportunity to show what I could do. I was able to get a couple of goals in the preseason and all of a sudden you get on the coaches’ and the GM’s radar and maybe you get that extra look for a call-up during the regular season if it wasn’t there before.”
In Saturday’s win over the Jets, Brouwer assisted on a Jack Hillen goal that should have been credited to Walker and added a game-tying power-play goal in the third period. Replays of the goal are inconclusive as to a deflection, but do show Walker celebrating as if he’d scored.
“I think it did,” says Brouwer when asked if he thought Walker got a piece of HIllen’s shot. “I went over and told the ref. I know there aren’t a whole lot of cameras in that little rink to straighten it out. They said they changed it, but they didn’t announce it. Those things are very important in preseason. In the regular season guys don’t care as much. But in the preseason, it could be the difference between making the team and not making the team. Hopefully he got credit, or hopefully who needs to know knows that he got a touch on it.”
Brouwer and his linemates will try to repeat their Saturday night magic against the Bruins on Tuesday. Baltimore hockey fans will also get a look at what was the NHL’s hottest line over the second half of last season, the trio of Johansson, Backstrom and Ovechkin.
Johansson and Backstrom each had a power-play assist in Saturday’s game. The most noteworthy moment of Ovechkin’s night in the preseason opener was when he caught an errant hi-stick up high in the first period, getting clipped on the mouth and just outside his right eye.
Johansson believes the trio won’t need to press too hard to rekindle the chemistry it had last season.
“We’ll play some games together here in the preseason,” says Johansson, “and just go out and keep doing what we’ve been doing. I think it’s just going to come naturally; it’s nothing I think we’ll need to work too hard on. We’ve played together enough; quite a bit and we know each other more and more all the time. I don’t think it will be anything to worry about.”