Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky had surgery on his left thumb Tuesday afternoon and is expected to miss six to eight weeks, a significant blow to Washington’s forward depth.
Washington has struggled with secondary scoring through the first nine games of the season after the offseason departures of top-six forwards Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams. The Capitals were counting on Burakovsky, in the first season of his new two-year, $6 million deal, to replace some of that lost goal production. The 2013 first-round pick struggled to start the season, but he seemed to be heating up just before he got injured, scoring his first goal in Detroit on Friday night.
“He just finally broke through and got a goal, and we were hoping he’d get some traction,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “Then he got hurt.”
Without Burakovsky in the lineup, the team had Alex Chiasson skating with center Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin, while rookie Jakub Vrana moved into Burakovsky’s vacated spot on the left side of center Lars Eller. That could be in an effort to spread out the scoring through the top three lines with Vrana having similar qualities to Burakovsky as a speedy skater with a good shot.
The Capitals were the healthiest team in the league last season, but this is their third injury of the young campaign. Defenseman Matt Niskanen is out until at least Nov. 7 with a left hand injury, and forward Tyler Graovac is considered “week-to-week” with an undisclosed “upper-body” injury. Niskanen has been skating with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish before practices, but without a stick.
With Washington in need of an extra forward before its three-game road trip, the team placed Burakovsky on injured reserve and recalled Chandler Stephenson, the Capitals’ last cut at training camp. Stephenson has played in 13 games for the Capitals over the past two seasons, coming up for short stints to fill in for an injured player. Stephenson got off to a hot start in the American Hockey League, scoring five goals in Hershey’s first six games, including a hat trick on Saturday. He will likely be Washington’s extra forward, with Nathan Walker expected to draw in before him.
Ovechkin was back on the ice Tuesday after an injury scare at the end of practice Monday. Ovechkin got tangled up with a teammate during a two-on-two drill, sliding into the boards awkwardly and leaving the ice with a limp. He said he just had a “bruise,” and it was nothing serious. Trotz had Ovechkin skate in circles around the neutral zone as he timed him after practice Tuesday, and he said it was because Ovechkin missed a conditioning drill on Monday when he left practice early.
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