ARLINGTON, Va. -- Before the 2013-14 season, Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates singled out right wing Troy Brouwer when asked which player he expected to enjoy a breakout year.
It was a sensible prediction considering Brouwer's success in 2012-13. In 47 games, the 28-year-old finished second on the Capitals with 19 goals, which put him on pace for a career-high 33 over a full season. With his new role as the finisher on the second line, Brouwer enjoyed the new responsibilities bestowed upon him by the Washington coaching staff.
That is why Brouwer is taking his slow start this season so seriously. He has five goals and nine points, with one goal at even strength. It's a far cry from the numbers he expected from himself at this juncture.
"Coming off a season like last year where I was one of the guys who was looked at to put points on the board, be an impact every game, those expectations were a little bit higher than they have been in previous years," Brouwer told NHL.com. "Maybe that's the reason why I feel that I'm struggling, because I feel I should be doing more. I should be scoring more goals and putting up more points."
Roughly 30 minutes after practice ended Thursday and long after Washington's other veterans had retreated to the locker room, Brouwer was on the ice working on the finer details of his game, particularly puck control in the corners and making more effective outlet passes.
"Something you should be able to do when you're a little kid," he said.
He pinpointed puck possession as an area he needs to improve. Last season, Brouwer relied on center Mike Ribeiro, now with the Phoenix Coyotes, to create plays, which allowed Brouwer to focus his attention on finding openings to score.
On a line with left wing Eric Fehr and center Mikhail Grabovski, each capable of setting up plays and scoring, Brouwer understands he must do his part in getting plays going.
"I've always been a good shooter and I've always been good at puck recoveries, but when I get the puck, I want to be able to have the confidence to hold onto it, make a good play and make my linemates better on the ice when I'm on the ice," said Brouwer, whose 46.1 Corsi percentage ranks ninth among 11 Capitals forwards with at least 21 games played, according to ExtraSkater.com. "I really like the dynamic of our line, but they need me to be able to hold onto the puck, protect the puck and be able to make plays."
Brouwer said he does not believe he is playing poorly but realizes he'll need to produce more if he hopes to retain his spot as a top-six forward.
Oates' long-held belief, however, is that a slump is not characterized by a player simply not scoring. He instead believes that when that player forces the issue and deviates away from the game plan in order to score, he can hinder the entire team's progress.
Brouwer remains one of Oates' most dependable players, playing an integral role on the power-play and penalty-killing units. Regardless of Brouwer's struggles, that role isn't likely to change.
"I talked to him about a week ago [and told him] that ‘You're vital to us. Numbers are irrelevant, like every guy on our team. You're first PP, first PK,'" Oates said. "'We pull the goalie, you're on. They pull the goalie, you're on. Four-on-four, you play. Overtime, you play. You're a top-six forward, versatile. Like I've always said, I don't care about numbers. Just play."
Patrick Wey, the Capitals' fourth-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft who was playing in the ECHL less than a month ago, will make his NHL debut on Saturday against the Nashville Predators. He will be the third Capitals defenseman to make his League debut this season, joining Nate Schmidt and Connor Carrick.
"I'd feel worried if I wasn't nervous," Wey said. "I think it's normal, but I play a pretty simple game, so I'm not going to try to do too much or take too much on my shoulders. I think the guys around me will support me and help it be a good first game."
The Predators did not hold a morning skate Saturday, but captain Shea Weber returned to practice on Friday after missing a week with an eye injury. The defenseman joined his teammates on the trip to Washington and will play for the first time since Nov. 28.
Here are the projected lineups for the Capitals and Predators:
Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr – Mikhail Grabovski – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Martin Erat – Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Nate Schmidt – John Carlson
Karl Alzner – Mike Green
Dmitry Orlov – Patrick Wey
Scratched: Steve Oleksy, Alexander Urbom
Injured: Brooks Laich (lower body), John Erskine (knee), Jack Hillen (fractured tibial plateau), Michal Neuvirth (lower body)
Colin Wilson – Mike Fisher - Patric Hornqvist
Craig Smith – David Legwand – Gabriel Bourque
Viktor Stalberg – Matt Cullen – Nick Spaling
Matt Hendricks – Paul Gaustad – Eric Nystrom
Seth Jones – Shea Weber
Roman Josi – Kevin Klein
Mattias Ekholm – Ryan Ellis
Scratched: Rich Clune, Victor Bartley, Joe Piskula
Injured: Filip Forsberg (upper body), Pekka Rinne (hip)