Forward Andre Burakovsky participated in the Capitals’ morning skate Monday, the first time he has been on the ice with the team since he had surgery on his thumb in late October. Burakovsky’s left thumb is still wrapped, and he said his timing with the puck doesn’t feel quite right yet, but he’s targeting a return to the lineup early next week.
“It all depends how fast I can get my timing in the game back,” Burakovsky said. “I mean, you saw on two-on-ones out there; I was a little bit off with the timing. It still feels a little bit weird when I’m skating with the puck and shooting — not in my thumb or anything. I just haven’t been handling the puck for a while or shooting the puck for a while.
“It’s kind of like starting all over a little bit. So, I just have to get back. I’m probably not going to get back in the lineup until I feel really comfortable with my timing and my shot and stickhandling.”
Burakovsky said he plans to practice with the team tomorrow “and see how that feels.” This is the second time in as many seasons that Burakovsky’s play has been interrupted by a hand injury — last year, he broke his right hand. He missed 15 games and, when he got back to the lineup, he had one goal and five assists over the last 12 games of the season.
“All the X-rays have been looking really good, and it’s been healing really proper,” Burakovsky said. “I really like soft gloves, so I’m always bending them a lot before I use them. So, probably going to stop doing that now.”
When Burakovsky plays again, he’s expected to plug in somewhere in the top-nine forward corps, potentially starting on the third line with Lars Eller because Washington’s top two lines have been playing well lately. Burakovsky had 12 goals and 23 assists in 64 games last season, and he had one goal and three assists in the nine games before he got hurt this year. Burakovsky has missed the past 18 contests.
Before Burakovsky gets back, the Capitals will have to clear some salary-cap space to activate him off long-term injured reserve, so the team will potentially waive a forward.
“We’ll get a couple practices in and see where he is after that,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “But he’s getting closer. I think his date is next week, early next week. I think he’s on schedule, if not ahead of schedule.”
Boyd to make debut
Forward Chandler Stephenson is out with an undisclosed “upper-body” injury that’s considered “day-to-day,” though Trotz said he expects him to be back “fairly soon.” In the meantime, the Capitals recalled forward Travis Boyd, and he’ll make his NHL debut against the San Jose Sharks on Monday night.
It’s a long time coming for Boyd, who has played in 208 straight games, including the playoffs, for the Hershey Bears, the longest active iron man streak in the American Hockey League.
“I’m beyond excited,” said Boyd, a sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft. “I’ve obviously been looking forward to this moment since I started playing hockey. I’m really excited and just hope that my nerves aren’t too bad tonight.”
Boyd has three goals and 17 assists in 23 games with Hershey this season. He’s a natural center, so he’ll be slightly out of position when he skates on Eller’s left wing Monday night.
“He’s been [Hershey’s] best player for two-plus years down there,” Trotz said. “We had virtually no injuries at the forward position. I think he deserves a shot to come up and play. I also think it gives us a better feel for what we have down in Hershey, too, and he was one of the guys who deserved to come up a few times. . . .
“This is a small window for us to take a look at Travis. Knock on wood we don’t have any more injuries, but it’s a small window for us to take a look at what he can bring, and I think with his skill set, he’s been a productive offensive player and his hockey IQ is very good. I thought he had a really good training camp for the most part, and now he gets an opportunity to play his first game. It’s always special for any player.”
The Capitals have historically struggled against the Sharks, posting just one regulation win in the teams’ past 25 meetings. How does Trotz explain that?
“Every team has a unicorn team,” he said. “I think every team has that. The ones that come to mind for me with this club are obviously San Jose is one and Dallas. Those are the two. We’ve been a unicorn for a few franchises, too. I just think everybody has one of those.”
Here’s what the Capitals’ lineup is expected to look like against the Sharks:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana-Evgeny Kuznetsov-T.J. Oshie
Travis Boyd-Lars Eller-Brett Connolly
Devante Smith-Pelly-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson
Scratched: Tyler Graovac, Chandler Stephenson (“upper body”)
Brooks Orpik-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos-Madison Bowey
Scratched: Taylor Chorney
Philipp Grubauer (starter)
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