Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky had a solid game Friday against the Montreal Canadiens, recording 22 shot attempts in a 3-2 loss. It was a step forward for Burakovsky and coach Barry Trotz praised him for being one of the only bright spots in th loss.
But for Burakovsky, who has struggled to find his groove after coming back from a broken thumb, to truly find his game, Trotz said the 22-year-old will have to start increasing his production.
Burakovsky has recorded just eight points (three goals, five assists) in 48 games after recording 35 points in 64 games last year. The Capitals expected Burakovsky to fill a top six role at the beginning of the season, but Burakovsky has spent the majority of his season in the bottom six.
In Sunday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Flyers, Burakovsky again went without recording a point, but Trotz said he liked his effort.
“There’s still things we have to clean up, but I thought he created some stuff,” Trotz said. “He was skating and he was competing and he was battling. That’s what you want [with] young guys. That’s the foundation of sport: the complete and the battle.”
Before the Capitals took their bye week, Trotz had wanted to see more “battle” out of Burakovsky. Burakovsky was a healthy scratch for two straight games near the end of December. At the time, Trotz said Burakovsky needed to put “some urgency” into his game.
Shortly after returning to the lineup, Burakovsky missed two more games because of an illness. When the Capitals returned from their bye week Thursday, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch again. This time, Trotz said he wanted to be cautious with his forward, so he could eventually find his rhythm.
Trotz told reporters before Friday’s game that he planned to start Burakovsky on the fourth line and expected to move him up if he played well. That happened as Trotz swapped Burovsky for Alex Chiasson on the second line.
Trotz, however, didn’t tell Burakovsky of his plans in advance.
“I think he just wanted me to get out there and focus on my game and don’t hope for anything,” said Burakovsky on Friday.
None of this is new for Burakovsky, per se. Last season, he missed over a month with a broken hand. And during the 2015-16 season, his second year in the league, Burakovsky was benched after a 25-game scoring drought.
But the Capitals still had higher expectations for Burakovsky after agreeing to a two-year, $6 million deal when he was a restricted free agent last summer.
Burakovsky, though, fractured his left thumb just nine games into the season. The injury required surgery and he was expected to miss 6-8 weeks. While the time frame turned out to be right, Burakovsky said it took longer to recover than he expected.
Trotz, though, hasn’t appeared to give up on him, eventually moving Burakovsky back to a top six role midway through the Canadiens game on Friday and again on Sunday. He was paired on a second line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie against the Flyers.
“I’ve got to get [Burakovsky] some traction here,” Trotz said. “I’ve got to get him some confidence.”
The last two games have been a good start.