When Troy Brouwer muscles his body into crease traffic and tries to establish a presence around the net, he often feels like a defensive lineman. Sometimes, brute strength can force position. At other moments, Brouwer gets creative. “It’s kind of like football,” he said. “You’ve got to do a little shake-and-bake in front, maybe a swim move or two.”
Among the new emphases hammered by the Washington Capitals’ coaching staff this week, seeking an end to a five-game losing streak, came packaged in blue paint, spritzed onto the ice Wednesday afternoon. Two spots were put down, forming a triangle with the goal, serving as target points for forwards to occupy.
“We don’t have enough net presence,” Trotz said. “We don’t have a lot of interior play … If we’re going to have success, we’re not at the net enough for me. If we’re at the net a little bit more, we’re going to keep things alive, we’re going to score a few more goals.”
That focus continued Thursday before the team flew to Chicago. Several drills focused on fighting for space and occupying a goaltender’s line of sight, right in the golden lane between the crease and the opposing defenseman.
“If we’re going to get to the net, let’s get to the net at that level,” Trotz said. “It’s a middle-lane drive, not a middle-lane glide.”
This season, according to data from SportingCharts, the Capitals haven’t found much of a net presence, with most of their 37 goals coming parallel to the faceoff circles or higher.
“It is tough,” Brouwer said. “D-men have a little bit of leeway in front of the net with crosschecks, boxing out. It’s tough to get body position, especially if they get in early.”
Forward Brooks Laich, who while possibly skating Friday beside strong puck-cyclers like Jason Chimera and Joel Ward might find himself searching for deflections near traffic, mentioned the power of a quick first step, which can jump a defenseman once the puck moves.
“Defensemen in this league are so good and there’s so much attention paid to boxing guys out, and you have to have the mindset just to get that one step, and then you’ve got them off your back hip and you can get to the net,” Laich said. “It takes work and effort away from the puck to get there. You can’t hope to get there. You have to move quick, spin, move your feet, constantly drive, then fight for the opportunities. Their job is to clear the puck out. The goalie’s trying to cover it. Our job is to try and find it.”
Of course, Brouwer noted, net presence means nothing if the Capitals can’t control the puck inside the offensive zone and pelt shots toward the cage.
“I’m a big body, I’m a strong guy,” he said. “I should be able to hold my presence in front of the net, but that means we’ve got to get puck possession in the zone first. I can’t just be flying into the front of the net and hoping we recover the puck. Entries and recoveries are first and foremost, and after that, when the puck’s moving around, the two guys I’m playing with are quite a bit more skilled with the puck than I am, and that means I need to be in front of the net creating havoc.”
As for the moves, a simple one-two head fake might suffice, or occasionally the swim move pass-rushers use to hunt quarterbacks.
“Can’t really juke on skates,” Brouwer said. “Doesn’t really go that well.”