“We show film, we do everything that way with every player who struggles,” Trotz said. “You meet with them, try to find ways to get them going in the right direction. You do all of those things. They need to find their way as well. It’s not all on coaches and teammates and all that. They’ve got to find their way. Young players sometimes, they want to be told and they want that black and white answer. As you know in this game, there’s some gray and that’s the gray part that you have to figure out.”
The Capitals’ game against the Islanders was Burakovsky’s first healthy scratch of the season, capping what’s been a disappointing start for the young, skilled forward. After scoring two goals in the season opener, Burakovsky hasn’t scored in the 26 games since, and he’s on a seven-game point drought. It seems unlikely he’ll play against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday after his replacement, Brett Connolly, scored a goal in Tuesday’s game.
Washington is riding a five-game win streak, but to have success in the postseason, the team needs Burakovsky to be the productive player they expected in his third NHL season. Instead, his young career has been marked by miserable streaks such as this one.
This isn’t the first time Trotz has pulled Burakovsky from the lineup after a long goal drought; the 21-year-old Swede was a healthy scratch three times last season and went 25 games without a goal. When he was in the middle of his slump, Burakovsky worked with Eric Hoffberg, a mental toughness coach other players had consulted, and Trotz saw other areas of his game develop, including an improvement in his play without the puck. He got hot at the end of the season to finish with 17 goals, 16 at even strength, after he had two through 32 games.
He again worked with a sports psychologist this summer in Sweden, hoping to avoid another prolonged period of inconsistent play. But Burakovsky recently said this scoreless streak is different from last year’s.
“At this point last year, I wasn’t playing good,” Burakovsky said a week ago. “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.”
For a second straight year, Burakovsky was taken off the second power-play unit, replaced by rookie Jakub Vrana, who has a goal and a primary assist there in the past three games. Burakovsky’s been taking fewer shots recently; he is averaging less than one shot per game in the past 14 games. In the first 13, he was taking 2.2 shots per game. He played less than 10 minutes in his past two games. This is a contract year for him; the 2013 first-round draft pick is a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Earlier this month, Trotz said he wanted to see more production from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Burakovsky. “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 then. Kuznetsov has tallied at least one assist in the past five games.
To get back in the lineup, now it’s on Burakovsky to respond.
“Opening night he had two goals, and he’s been sort of dry ever since,” Trotz said on Tuesday night. “With young guys, sometimes you just need a reset because they validate a lot of production based on goals and assists, trying to be a little too cute in some areas, and therefore, it doesn’t work as effectively. Just talked to Andre, and Andre is going to be fine. He’s a good player. Sometimes, you just need a little reset. It’s been playing on his mind a little bit, trying to get some production and what have you, and his ice time has gone down.
“I said, ‘Just get a reset. You can’t control my decision, or you can’t control what’s happened in the past, but all you can do is control from this moment forward. You know, tonight you’re not playing. I don’t know if you’ll be in next game or whenever, but all you can control is how you practice, your mindset and sort of reset about what you’re going to do in the next 60 games or whatever.’”