WASHINGTON -- With the Capitals mired in last place in the Eastern Conference, one of the most outspoken players on the Caps' roster had a big part Saturday night in helping the team put together perhaps its best effort in the first dozen games of the season. Troy Brouwer scored a pair of goals in a 5-0 win over Florida, including a key goal in the second period to help Washington notch just its third win of the season.
Following a 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh Thursday night, the leaders of the team called a players-only meeting Friday before practice, and Brouwer felt it was a big part of the team's improved effort Saturday.
"It was good to get things off our chest [in the meeting]," he said following the win. "Guys tend to bottle things up because they don't want to bring them out and cause controversy within the team. We tried to create an environment within the team where guys could express their concern and not be ridiculed for it, as a result, I think guys took to it positively as you can see with the effort tonight."
For someone who Capitals general manager George McPhee called "as good a leader as there is in this game," Brouwer backed up his strong words as of late with good play.
Brouwer got the Caps on the board in the first period, as a John Carlson shot deflected off him past Panthers netminder Jose Theodore.
"The first goal was huge for us," Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said afterwards.
He then got onto the scoresheet in more orthodox fashion in the second, taking a long pass from goaltender Braden Holtby, then moving in and blasting a shot past Theodore.
"It was a great play and a big goal," Caps coach Adam Oates said of the tally.
Brouwer, who scored his first two-goal game since last February 28, said the pass from Holtby helped set him up for the break.
"Those aren't plays you try and plan, when [Holtby] was able to make the play -- and flat [pass] too -- I'm not going to say it was surprising, but good timing," Brouwer said.
Brouwer is now tied for the Caps' lead in most goals with five in just a dozen games, tied with Joel Ward and one ahead of Ovechkin. Although he has broken the 20-goal barrier just once back in the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup-winning season of 2009-10, Brouwer is now on pace for a 20-goal campaign in just 48 games.
"He's played hard," coach Adam Oates said of Brouwer's play so far this year. "He plays with Nick [Backstrom] a lot. I count on him a lot, plays a lot of minutes, he's produced."
For Brouwer, he was happier with the Capitals' effort his evening after having some choice word for his teammates after recent games.
"Tonight, I think it's easy to say it was our most complete game that we've played all season, maybe since I've been here," Brouwer said. "Tonight is a game we need to model the rest of our season after, being tight in our D zone, Holts made big saves for us at big times, we moved the puck forward real well, out penalty kill was good again tonight, power play scored, everything was in our direction because we were working hard."
For a team that had let points slip away with less-than-60-minute efforts, Brouwer felt it was important for the Caps to keep their foot on the gas.
"We wanted to close out tonight as quickly as possible," he said. "We'd let teams linger and as a result, we've gotten no points out of those games, it was important for us to continue to get momentum in our direction, continue to get shifts in their zone and chances, score a couple of more goals and put distance between then and us."
And, with the Capitals still needing more wins to climb back into the playoff hunt after a 3-8-1 start, Brouwer said he knew Washington had to keep up the effort that had been lacking most of this season.
"The meeting was more what we expected out of each other," he said. "Guys not trying too much, guys doing more than they need to, just clearing the air in the dressing room, which may have been a little bit late for what it should have been, but it definitely worked out.
"But we need to continue to go forward from where we are are right now."