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Andre Burakovsky's important season put on hold due to surgery on broken thumb

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Andre Burakovsky's important season put on hold due to surgery on broken thumb

Capitals winger Andre Burakovsky had surgery to repair his fractured left thumb on Tuesday afternoon, the team said in a statement.

Burakovsky, who was injured late in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Panthers, is expected to be sidelined six to eight weeks as a result, dealing the scuffling Caps a significant blow. Washington is 4-4-1 and has been limited to two or fewer goals in three of its last four games.

It’s also a big blow for Burakovsky, who missed 15 games last season with a broken right hand. The 22-year-old winger was aiming to break out after signing a two-year, $6 million extension this summer.

Over the past two seasons, the Caps had ranked among the NHL’s healthiest teams. That has not been the case this season, with No. 1 defenseman Matt Niskanen out with an upper body injury and checking line forward Tyler Graovac sidelined, also with an upper body injury.

RELATED: OVECHKIN RETURNS AFTER MONDAY'S SCARE

And now this.

“It's hard,” T.J. Oshie said before the news of Burakovsky's surgery had been announced. “We've been pretty lucky here the last couple years. We've had a couple injuries but for the most part we've been staying pretty healthy. It happens every once in a while, you kinda get the injury bug a little bit. It’s a little bit of adversity, it’s roles changing a little bit. Some guys are going to get a lot more responsibility.”

Burakovsky's injury happened in the waning minutes of Saturday game when he got hooked behind the net. He immediately took his glove off and began flexing his injured hand.

Although Burakovsky was examined after the contest, the full extent of the injury was not known until he visited a hand specialist on Tuesday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, Coach Barry Trotz lamented the fact that the injury occurred—again—just as Burakovksy appeared to be finding his game. Against Detroit on Friday, he scored his first goal of the season and recorded a clutch primary assist to help the Caps secure a 4-3 overtime victory.

“He’s just finally broke through, got a goal and we were hoping that would get him some traction,” Trotz said. “And then he got hurt. That was sorta like last year.”

Trotz added: “It seems he’s got that gift of finally getting some traction and then getting hurt. We’ll see what the specialist says and go from there.”

The Caps were hoping that Burakovsky could produce 20-25 goals this season to help offset all of the goals that left the team via free agency over the summer. Instead, one of their most promising young forwards now will be sidelined until early to mid December.

On Tuesday morning, Burakovsky was placed on injured reserve, clearing the way for the team to recall Chandler Stephenson, who joined the team for its road trip to Western Canada. Based on practice rushes, Stephenson will be the extra forward when the Caps play at Vancouver on Thursday night.

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What has been the biggest surprise for the Caps in the first half of the season?

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What has been the biggest surprise for the Caps in the first half of the season?

The bye week is a good opportunity to evaluate what happened over the course of the first half of the season and look forward to the rest of the season. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan answer the biggest questions surrounding the team at the bye.

Today's topic: What has been the biggest surprise for the Caps in the first half of the season?

El-Bashir: While seeing the Caps sit atop the deep and difficult Metro Division is a bit unexpected, my biggest surprise at the bye is Alex Ovechkin’s return to world-class form. For the record, I wasn’t among those—and there were plenty—who were ready to write off No. 8, saying he was poised for a precipitous plunge in production following a disappointing 33 goal performance a year ago. I thought he’d bounce back…a bit, anyway. After all, we had seen him do it a couple of times before. Instead, what we appear to witnessing is a rebirth of sorts. Ovechkin, at 32, leads the NHL with 28 goals and is on pace to hit 50 for the eighth time in his career. (Last season, the top-10 goal getters were all under 30 and Sidney Crosby’s 44 led everyone.) Ovechkin is also on pace for his highest point total—89—since he posted 109 way back in 2009-10. The three-time MVP is also leading the league in shots.

RELATED: WHERE DO THE CAPS SIT IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS?

Sure, Ovechkin is playing 1:20 more per game than he did last year. But it’s not all about an extra couple of shifts. Ovechkin put in the work this offseason, and it’s showing. He’s got a gear, a burst we haven’t seen in a couple of years and, as a result, he’s getting to pucks—and creating opportunities—he couldn’t a season ago.

For Ovechkin’s legion of fans, the second half of the regular season figures to be even more fun that the first because of the milestones that are within his reach. At some point, assuming he stays healthy, Ovechkin will hit 500 assists (he’s two away), 600 goals (he’s 14 back) and 1,000 games (he needs 34 more).

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again Caps fans: savor every moment because Ovi’s on top of his game again.

MORE CAPITALS: BRIAN MACLELLAN ISN'T PLAYING COY, HE WANTS TO RE-SIGN JOHN CARLSON

Regan: My biggest surprise is the Caps’ 28-14-3 record. Given the number of players the team lost in the offseason, it was clear they were not the same team that won the Presidents’ Trophy the past two years. But how much of a step back would they take? No one was really sure what to expect. With a six-point lead over the Metropolitan Division 45 games into the season, Washington is surpassing even the most optimistic of expectations.

Not only are the Caps exceeding expectations, they are doing it in the face of obstacles that should be holding them back.

The Caps have not had the same remarkable luck with injuries as they have the past few years. T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Andre Burakovsky and Matt Niskanen have all missed time due to injuries this season. Those are significant losses, especially Niskanen given the team’s thin depth on the blue line. But Alex Ovechkin’s defiance of Father Time, the emergence of Jakub Vrana and key contributions from role players like Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly have bolstered the team’s offense. Defensively, John Carlson’s career season helped mitigate the loss of Niskanen.

When you consider the players the Caps lost, the injuries the team has dealt with, that they rank dead last in shots per game, that they have two rookies playing on the blue line and their best player is 32 years old, the fact the team not only sits in first place of the tough Metropolitan Division but by a sizable six-point margin is absolutely remarkable.

RELATED: CAPS' IMPROBABLE WIN

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NHL Power Rankings: Riding high into the bye

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NHL Power Rankings: Riding high into the bye

For a Capitals team that has won 14 of its last 19 games, perhaps the bye week did not come at the best time. But, the mandated bye week is here none the less. Now the task for the Caps will be to relax, get healthy and get ready for the second half grind.

All that, plus they need to figure out how to return from the bye.

The benefits of a bye week are obvious. But there are also some less obvious disadvantages.

SEE THIS WEEK’S UPDATED NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

The bye week does not just mean no games, it means no practices too. The team is not allowed to practice until Wednesday afternoon, the day before they return to action, on the road. When it comes to the finely tuned machine of a professional hockey team, it doesn’t take long for rust to set in.

Last year, the Capitals entered the bye week on a six-game winning streak. They returned with back-to-back games on the road and lost both. They would go on to lose eight of 14 before they finally pulled together. This year, given how the Metropolitan has looked, a stretch like that could end up costing them the division.

The team also needs to be especially cognizant of injuries. Washington comes back from the bye week with three games in four days. To go from no practice or games to three games in four days seems like a dangerous proposition for the players.

But these are things the Caps don’t have to worry about until Thursday. For now, they are riding into the bye week on a high note. Just how high? Find out here in this week’s NHL Power Rankings.