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Capitals’ Andre Burakovsky still confident despite slump, reduced role

(Nick Wass/Associated Press)

Andre Burakovsky was the last Washington Capitals player to leave the ice after Tuesday afternoon’s practice, acting like a player out of the lineup instead of one averaging nearly 15 minutes a game. He wanted to get in some extra work, hopeful that shooting the puck into the net in practice would translate to doing so in game. But perhaps it was also a reaction to sensing a healthy scratch could be in his future.

“He knows he needs to get his game going a little bit,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s a young player who has to work through all of that.”

After scoring two goals in the first game of the season, Burakovsky has gone 23 games with a goal, nearing the 25-game scoreless streak he had early last season. Then, Trotz bumped him off the power play, and eventually Burakovsky was scratched for a handful of games before returning to the lineup.

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Two games ago, Burakovsky lost his role on the second power-play unit, and on Tuesday, he was one of four forwards skating on the third line, indicating one of the three wingers would be the extra against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night. Trotz said he hadn’t made his lineup decisions yet and hadn’t indicated anything to Burakovsky. And despite growing uncertainty and frustration over not scoring, Burakovsky has remained confident — a change from this time last year.

“I’ve just got to find a way to get out of it really quick,” Burakovsky said. “I don’t think it’s my game that’s bad. The points are just not really there for me. At this point last year, I wasn’t playing good. That’s a difference. This year, I actually think I’m playing good. I’m doing the right things, and I feel confident. But the only thing that’s missing is the points. Last year, I didn’t feel like I do at this point. I was insecure. I didn’t trust myself, and then the game is harder.”

Through 24 games, Burakovsky has tallied two goals and eight assists, playing primarily in a top-six role. Before Monday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, Trotz said the team, which has struggled to score at five-on-five this season, needs production from Burakovsky and center Evgeny Kuznetsov. “They’re put in the position to be in the top-six forwards, and we need production, or we’re just going to have to change that out somehow,” Trotz said.

Burakovsky is mostly happy with how he’s played, but said he’d like to be more aggressive in getting to the front of the net and trying to score from there. In the first 12 games of the season, he averaged 2.33 shots per game. In the 12 games since, he’s averaged one shot per game, and in four of those games, he didn’t record a single shot on goal. Trotz said Burakovsky should trust his instincts, as he has a tendency to “get in his own head.”

While Burakovsky understands and respects Trotz’s decision to take him off the power play, he acknowledged that “of course it sucks to not be on the power play.”

“I think I am a power-play player,” Burakovsky said. “I think we didn’t have a lot of success, but that’s not only on me or one other guy. It’s the whole team. Yeah, we need a couple changes. Like I said, the coach knows what’s best for the team and he makes all of the decisions. But I’m just going to keep being ready and show all of the coaches that I’m supposed to be a power-play player.”