Andre Burakovsky has lost count of how many posts and crossbars he has hit, or how often he has been told that a second season in the NHL is the hardest. He has had to remind himself too often that chances are good and the fluky nature of hockey means one of those chances will eventually go in, and if that happens, maybe he will get his scoring touch back.
But it has been 19 games that the Washington Capitals forward has not scored a goal, and he has had just two assists in that stretch. His lack of point production has him back on the fourth line, and the 20-year-old has logged less than nine minutes of ice time for three straight games. He has been a healthy scratch three times in the past 11 games.
“Obviously, I want to get back on the score sheet here,” Burakovsky said. “That’s something I used to be good at.”
When Coach Barry Trotz scratched Burakovsky for back-to-back games against Colorado and Edmonton last month, he talked to Burakovsky about needing to stop thinking so much during this slump. He suggested Burakovsky talk to Eric Hoffberg, a mental toughness coach who works with several Capitals individually.
Burakovsky said he and Hoffberg talk once a week, and he feels the conversations are helping play instinctually rather than let negative thoughts affect his actions on the ice.
“I’m not going to stop doing what took me to the NHL,” Burakovsky said. “I want to get more opportunities to score and I want to get more into the net and be there in front of the net. That’s something I’m really trying to improve every game, because that’s something I have to do.”
When Marcus Johansson missed Washington’s Dec. 5 game against Winnipeg with an injury, Burakovsky got bumped up to the top-six forward corps and temporarily returned to the power-play unit, getting his first assist in six games.
In that game, he didn’t back down from a back and forth with 260-pound defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, which Trotz appreciated because he said it showed passion. Burakovsky was scratched against the Florida Panthers last week, but when Trotz put him on a fourth line with center Brooks Laich and Tom Wilson the following game against Tampa Bay on Saturday, he was happy with Burakovsky’s performance.
“I mean, he rang one off the post,” Trotz said. “I was hoping he’d score there and if he’d scored there, I think it’d give him a little boost of confidence. I think all young players who are goal scorers, they really judge their game based on production and goal-scoring versus maybe all the other stuff that you don’t get a lot of stats for, but he’s done a better job in the other areas. I think the offense will come. When he probably gets his next goal, you’ll see him take off again.”
That would be a welcome boost for the Capitals, who have not gotten much production outside of their top two lines recently. Burakovsky, who scored 22 points in 53 games last season, was third on the team in even-strength points per 60 minutes with 1.69 as a rookie, trailing just Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. But in 26 games this season, he has just seven points .
Trotz and Burakovsky are hopeful he will just snap out it soon.
“We talked about attitude, and he’s had a better attitude in terms of trying to stay positive,” Trotz said. “I mean, last year if I ever took him out or he went through a dry spell, you would see a pout or a little bit of a drag in his lip, but you don’t see it. He’s been really good at that — staying positive.”