After the offseason departures of top-six forwards Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, the Capitals were counting on Burakovsky to improve his production to help replace the depth that was lost with those two. But then the 22-year-old Swede went the first seven games of the season without a goal, scoring his first in the eighth game of the season, and then he broke his thumb in the ninth game. Tuesday night marked his sixth game back in the lineup, and after seven weeks away from game action, he understandably struggled.
“I’d say he was probably pressing a little bit the last couple games, so it was good to get him a couple,” Coach Barry Trotz said.
“I think the other games I haven’t been maybe creating as many chances as I wanted to,” Burakovsky said. “I’ve been having a couple looks. I think I’ve been skating well since I came back, but yeah, the only thing you need is one easy one that bounces off your pants or whatever. It’s just one goal and it’s gonna build your confidence, and then you feel more comfortable to hold onto the puck and make plays. I think I showed that today. As soon as I got that first one, it was kind of a relief and then I just built on my game.”
Though Burakovsky had a good feeling on Tuesday morning, the work to rediscover his goal-scoring touch started before that. After Washington’s last game, goaltending coach Scott Murray “went over some stuff with him … just trying to let him inside a goalie’s mind,” Braden Holtby said. Trotz said the team has spent more time this season helping its shooters understand a goaltender’s perspective.
“He’s still pretty young figuring out the mental game,” Holtby said. “Games like this are going to help him obviously. He’s got all of the tools. He’s got the world-class shot obviously — everyone knows that. Tonight, I think you saw, he used a little deception, changed the way he released the puck. It’s a good thing. … You can tell those two shots tonight, those are going to go in on most goalies.”
Trotz said that “number one, he’s got to hit the net.” That’s been an ongoing issue with Burakovsky — he has 20 shots on goal through 15 games, and he’s missed the net almost as many times (19). “When he’s trying too hard, he can get too fine, and he usually doesn’t have a lot of success,” Trotz said.
Tuesday’s two goals might go a long way to help that.
“It’s not easy coming back when you miss that much time,” Connolly said. “Your timing is off and the speed of the game is so fast. Big game by him, and he definitely was feeling it tonight. We’re going to need him to play at a high level if we’re going to be good here down the stretch. He’s a big part of this team, he knows it, puts a lot of pressure on himself to score and create offense. I think he just needed that one good game, and things will open up for him now.”