After his long-awaited return to the lineup on Saturday night in a victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky stat-line looked as though he hadn’t missed a beat, making it easy to see why he’s such an important part of the team.
When he fractured his hand on February 9, the 22-year old Swede was playing perhaps his best hockey of the season to that point. He was on pace to break his career-high of 38 points and the entire team was dominating the rest of the league. In his first game back, the Caps looked like that team again. According to the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan, Burakovsky’s hand wasn’t at full strength, but one would never know that by watching him tonight.
In 15:12 of ice time, Burakovsky recorded one assist, seven shots on goal (11 shot attempts in total), and was a plus-1. Playing on the team’s third-line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly, Burakovsky had multiple scoring chances, something that wasn’t lost on Burakovsky himself.
Burakovsky: “I had so many good chances where I definitely should have scored. I mean, I’m still a little bit rusty with my shooting.”
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) March 19, 2017
Burakovsky now has 11 goals, 19 assists, and 30 points in 52 games played, putting him on pace for 13 goals, 23 assists, and 36 points, just two points shy of his career-high of 38 points. While it may be too soon to tell if Burakovsky can continue to play as well as he did against the Lightning, the numbers are encouraging. Burakovsky played perhaps his best hockey of the season against Tampa Bay, and according to Burakovsky himself, that was exactly how he felt:
Burakovsky to reporters in Tampa: “It’s been a long time since my legs felt this good. I’m in phenomenal shape right now.” #CapsBolts
— Tarik El-Bashir (@TarikCSN) March 19, 2017
Even though it was just one game, Burakovsky’s performance was one that the Capitals will need from him come playoff time, especially after he struggled down the stretch last season. With their win, the Caps clinched their third consecutive playoff berth, and their third straight 100-point season.
Head Coach Barry Trotz was somewhat cautious in his response about Andre’s return:
Still just 22-years old, Burakovsky has shown at times this season just how dangerous he can be. If tonight’s game is any indication, the Caps could have one dangerous player on their hands for the foreseeable future. If the Caps are going to win the Stanley Cup this spring, they’ll need every player to step up. If Burakovsky can find his rhythm, they might just be unstoppable.
By Michael Fleetwood