BUFFALO, N.Y. — When Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer scored his first and only goal of the season March 20 against the Senators, what struck teammate Mike Kostka most was the smallness of Brewer's reaction.
Despite glove bumps, laughs and congratulations at the bench and cries of "Bobby Brew," Brewer did little more than smile.
"It was a (great) goal," Kostka said of the zippy, high backhand. "But it was funny. He scores that goal and it's as if he had done it 100 times. No big deal. He just went about the rest of his game."
That is Brewer in a nutshell.
He plays a quiet game, for the most part. Sure, he'll take the opportunity to rush the puck up the ice when it is there, but his priority is being a solid presence in the defensive zone.
Brewer is not a rah-rah type but is not afraid to speak up when something needs to be said in the locker room or on the bench. So when Steven Stamkos was elevated to captain after Marty St. Louis was traded to the Rangers at the deadline this month, Brewer, 34, was the natural choice to wear the alternate's "A" that had been Stamkos'.
"He's been such an unbelievable leader without (a letter)," coach Jon Cooper said of Brewer, "we would have been remiss not to give him one."
"I'm happy they are understanding of me," Brewer said. "I'm happy to put my stick on the pile, play the game and carry on."
Brewer, acquired from the Blues in February 2011 for prospect Brock Beukeboom and a third-round draft pick, is perhaps having his best season for the Lightning with a goal, 14 points, 83 blocked shots and 128 hits, tied for second on the team.
At plus-6, he has been plus or even in 53 of his 68 games, and he averages 2:12 on the penalty kill, third on the team.
But here's the thing: Brewer's average 17:22 of ice time is down 3:08 from last season. Cooper said the idea is to play Brewer less and keep him fresh so the minutes he does play "are really effective."
The addition of rookie Radko Gudas and more minutes for Victor Hedman have facilitated that strategy.
"And I think that's helped him," Cooper said of Brewer, "though he's not going to want to hear that."
No, he won't.
Asked how he reconciled himself to less playing time, Brewer — who plays his 957th NHL game tonight against the Sabres at the First Niagara Center — said, "Well, you don't. If you're happy playing less minutes, you're a loser, but you deal with it. You're constantly trying to get better and work on your game and help the team win."
"Just real smart," Kostka said of his defensive partner. "He's played for so long and at such a high level, you can tell guys who have been in those situations more than others, just how calm he is. Even during games, if we have a shift we weren't totally thrilled with, he's pretty quick to say, 'Let's sharpen up here,' but in a real calm way."
Such as the way Brewer reacted after his goal.
"He's been so good for us," fellow defenseman Sami Salo said. "It was nice to see him score and get rewarded."