Defenseman Matt Niskanen missed the Washington Capitals’ previous game with an undisclosed upper-body injury and forward Andre Burakovsky was a healthy scratch the past two games, but both are expected to play Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Blues.
Niskanen was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, donning a no-contact jersey and leaving the ice early. But he was a full participant Saturday, even taking line rushes with defenseman Dmitry Orlov, Niskanen’s typical partner. In 27 games, Niskanen has averaged 22:29, and he has three goals with eight assists. He plays on Washington’s second power-play unit, and he’s one of the first players over the boards on the penalty kill.
“Unless we have a setback, he’s good to go,” Coach Barry Trotz said Saturday. “But I don’t anticipate there being anything. I think he’s good to go.”
It has been a week since Niskanen played, but he has missed just one game — a fortuitous lull in the schedule that allowed him to get some rest and rehabilitation in.
“I only had to miss one game,” he said. “I could’ve easily missed five, probably, in a different part of the schedule.”
Burakovsky was scratched a week ago because of his slumping play through the first half of the season. A player whom the organization had high expectations for this season, Burakovsky has just three goals and five assists through 19 games. Some of the struggles can be attributed to a broken left thumb that kept him out of the lineup for 20 games.
Trotz has made Burakovsky a healthy scratch at least once in each of his first four NHL seasons, and Burakovsky has typically responded well, quickly snapping out of whatever drought he has been in. Burakovsky is expected to skate beside fourth-line center Jay Beagle and right wing Alex Chiasson. Left wing Chandler Stephenson, who had a primary assist in Washington’s previous game, appeared to be the odd man out, rotating with Brett Connolly on a third line with center Lars Eller.
Trotz said he feels like he can’t wait too long before getting Burakovsky, a skilled 22-year-old, back in the lineup.
“I think he’s a young player,” Trotz said. “And to credit the 12 forwards that are in, they’re making my decision really hard, which is what you want. So, we’ll see where Andre is [Sunday] and go from there. We’re in the mode where we’re trying to get a couple players going, but for the most part, everybody’s pulling their own weight.”
Trotz to coach at All-Star Game
With the Capitals sitting atop the Metropolitan Division in points and points percentage, Trotz has clinched the honor of coaching at the NHL All-Star Game at the end of the month in Tampa. He joins Alex Ovechkin on the Metropolitan Division team; the rest of the all-star rosters will be announced Wednesday.
“It’s always an honor to be selected, but let’s get this right: I’m going there to represent the Washington Capitals staff and the players,” Trotz said. “They’re the ones who got it done, and I’m the one that gets to go and represent them. So I want to really thank them because as a group they started out every year a new adventure and this one at this point in time put us in position for somebody to represent them, which is great. I think any time you experience the all-star games, the World Cup [of Hockey], the Olympics, all those things, those are great experiences and they don’t come along that often. …
“If you would have asked me after about the first five or six games of the year, [with] the way we started and all that, I didn’t think that would be on the horizon.”
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