It became a three-on-three situation inside the offensive zone, once Backstrom passed to Burakovsky inside the right faceoff circle. Less than three seconds elapsed between Backstrom’s initial feed and the tic-tac-toe puck Burakovsky left for defenseman John Carlson, who had burst onto the scene and blasted a one-timer into the net. The fast sequence held up as the Capitals’ winning goal and underscored the dynamic potential this latest iteration could achieve.
“I think we have good chemistry,” Burakovsky said. “Right from start, from first game, I think we’re finding each other really good out there. We still getting a lot of opportunities to score, just got to put them in the back of the net. I think we are fresh all the time for the other team to play against. We’re spending a lot of times in their end and we’re dangerous line. We’ve got speed, we’ve got shot, we’ve got the looks, we’ve got everything that needs to score goals. We just have to put it in the back of their net.”
In the four games before Trotz temporarily abandoned his insistence that Burakovsky play center and shuttled the 19-year-old rookie to top-line right wing, four different Capitals had skated beside Ovechkin and Backstrom.
It had been, and in some ways still is, a play-it-by-ear situation for Trotz, often depending on matchup. Jay Beagle has played there in tight games for his defensive-minded prowess. Tom Wilson has been deployed there for physicality. And now, for the sixth straight game, the second longest stretch of any top-line right wing this season, Burakovsky has entrenched himself there.
“I think this time it’s not easy to play with me and Alex,” Backstrom joked. “I think obviously Barry’s new in this organization and he wants to try different looks. Right now Burkie is there and we’ve been alright, but we can, like I said, go better. We can create more offense I think. We got to do better job forechecking I think. That’s the whole key.”
Over that six-game stretch, the line has only scored two even-strength goals, though they lead all Capitals forwards in even-strength Corsi-for, a measure of on-ice total shot differential, according to war-on-ice.com. They also produced Carlson’s crisp goal against Detroit, which Trotz saw as emblematic of the line tapping into its greatest strength.
“That’s just off a rush,” Trotz said. “They’re a high-execution team off the rush and you’re going to get pretty good passes on that. They can create in the offensive zone with good movement and using the D and getting back to the net and all that, that makes lines really good. They have those elements. We’re not changing anything right now, so we’ll let them keep going.”
Backstrom, a fellow Swede who’s hosted Burakovsky at his house now for several weeks, viewed the rotating door as potentially beneficial for him and Ovechkin, but it’s also added a dash of unpredictability. Through 42 games, Backstrom has spent 89.2 percent of his even-strength ice time with Ovechkin. His next closest linemate? Wilson, at 42.7 percent, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com.
“I think it’s good for us too,” Backstrom said. ‘I think we can help [Burakovsky] out and obviously he’s a talented guy and he knows how to make a play. I think he’s not scared of it either. That might be a good sign.”