Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images
If there’s anybody on the Capitals who has had the biggest roller coaster season, a strong candidate would be Andre Burakovsky. From a slow start, a left-thumb injury that sidelined him for seven weeks, and a couple of stints that had him benched throughout the last month, it has not been the season that he or the Capitals have envisioned. Lately though, it seems like he’s found his game and his confidence with two goals in the last two games.
Head coach Barry Trotz has scratched Burakovsky on multiple occasions since his return from injury. The first coming in two games on Dec. 28 vs. New Jersey and on Jan. 2 at Carolina. This scratch came in the midst of a scoreless drought of four consecutive games after scoring twice in Dallas on Dec. 19, including the game-winning goal in overtime.
“I’m learning a bit of a lesson here, being a healthy scratch. It’s not something I want to do. I want to be out there and help the team, compete and help them to win. It’s obviously coach’s decision and I’m gonna learn from my mistakes and come back and play like I’m supposed to,” Burakovsky said at the time.
Even when Burakovsky came back into the lineup on Jan. 7, he still went scoreless for the next four games until recording an assist on Jan. 25 in the Capitals 4-2 road win over the Florida Panthers. Burakovsky finally ended his goalless drought that stretched for nine games the following game on Jan. 31 in a 5-3 win over the Flyers.
Once that drought came to an end Burakovsky didn’t score a goal in the next three games and only registered an assist in the Capitals’ Super Bowl Sunday loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. During that next game on Feb. 6 at Columbus, Burakovsky only played in nine shifts for a total of 6:34. Burakovsky sat out the entire third period and Trotz scratched him from the lineup the next game against that same Blue Jackets team.
“We’ve all seen that he’s a good player, we’ve seen it in the past where he’s good in the playoffs and all that but he just hasn’t found his game right now and some of the decisions he’s making, I’m just sort of trying to get his attention a little bit,” Trotz told the media following the team’s practice last Thursday.
Burakovsky came back in the lineup on Feb. 11 as the Capitals fell in overtime to the Detroit Red Wings. Following that game, the Capitals hit the road for a four-game trip where they’ll play three of those games against teams from the Central Division. In that first game of the trip on Feb. 13 in Winnipeg, Burakovsky scored in the second period. After a shot by Lars Eller, Burakovsky was in the right place at the right time to rebound the puck in the net.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 14, 2018
“I know he hasn’t been happy with himself but sometimes all it takes is a goal like the other night to get his confidence going. It’s important. We need everyone going,” said Nicklas Backstrom.
Two nights later in Minnesota, Burakovsky showed off his puck handling, taking the puck from one end of the ice, all the way to the other end skating past four defenders before putting it in to put the Capitals ahead 3-0 in the third period en route to a 5-2 win over the Wild. Burakovsky also had an assist on Ovechkin’s goal in the previous period.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 16, 2018
“That was a great goal. He showed a lot of patience. It started out from a D (defensive) zone, a little bit of scrambling where he grabbed the puck and settled things down, then went on the attack. When Burkie (Burakovsky) is skating and feeling it, it’s great. He made a great play on the second goal to Ovi (Ovechkin) in the slot there, all those things. He’s a confidence guy. What I liked about him was that he managed the game correctly on both sides of the puck. He wasn’t trying to force it when it’s not there. He played the game like a real pro tonight,” Trotz told reporters after the win.
With the Capitals now in the home stretch of the season, they need everybody to chip in to keep them ahead of the pack in a tight Metropolitan Division race. Burakovsky is a vital piece to this team and when he’s producing, it helps give the Capitals more firepower on all four lines. Both Trotz and Burakovsky himself believe these last two games were big steps in the right direction.
“He’s a young player, he’s a good player and we’re not giving up on him. He knows that and he’s just trying to find his game again. Hopefully that’s a step in the right direction. That (third) line was good tonight,” said Trotz
“I’m playing with way more confidence. I can still do better and this was the first game in a while where I felt like I was skating pretty good. I think in Winnipeg, I felt tight in my legs and I’ve been feeling like that for a while so hopefully that turns around. Tonight I was skating good all over the ice through all three periods so yeah I’m definitely playing with more confidence,” added Burakovsky.
By Michael Marzzacco