Out of the lineup for 15 games because of a right hand injury, forward Andre Burakovsky will play on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning as the Capitals debut a full healthy lineup for a first time with trade-deadline acquisition Kevin Shattenkirk. Burakovsky had his first full-contact practice with the Capitals on Friday.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good lately,” Burakovsky said. “I talked to the doctor and, obviously, it’s not 100 percent, but it feels good. My shot is getting better and the doctor said can’t get worse. If it hurts sometimes when I shoot or whatever, it can’t get any worse. So I want to get back in. I’m hungry, I’ve been out for a while now and I can’t wait to get back in. I’m excited.”
Said Coach Barry Trotz: “He had pretty good strength. He was shooting. He didn’t seem to have any problems. He’s just smiling a lot right now.”
With Burakovsky healthy, the Capitals reassigned forward Jakub Vrana to their American Hockey League affiliate on Friday morning, leaving them without an extra forward. Trotz said the team might recall someone again next week before the team’s long road trip at the end of the month.
Before Burakovsky injured his hand blocking a shot against the Detroit Red Wings last month, he was a key piece to a productive third line that has cooled since he was injured. In 52 games, Burakovsky has 11 goals and 18 assists, and the Capitals are 7-6-2 without him in the lineup. His usual linemates in Lars Eller and Brett Connolly have combined for seven points in the 15 games Burakovsky has been out. Washington has averaged 2.46 goals per game in that span, ranked 20th in the league.
“Obviously, he brings another level of skill,” Trotz said on Thursday night. “He’s chomping at the bit to get back in. He can make some pretty good plays. I think he’ll be fresh, he’ll be ready to go. They were pretty productive before he got hurt. When he gets back into the lineup, then hopefully that line will get going a little bit more.”
Burakovsky said he doesn’t feel pain in his hand when he’s shooting. He will probably wear a thin wrap to stabilize the hand. Though his shooting and stick-handling was limited while he was injured, he’s gone through plenty of lower-body conditioning.
“That’s kind of the only thing I’ve been doing,” Burakovsky said. “I’ve been skating really, really hard every single day for the last a couple weeks here and to be honest it’s been hell, it’s been really tough and after that it paid off. I feel great. The whole practice, conditioning-wise, I felt really good.”