It’s been a heck of a start to the season for the Capitals’ big stars. In four games, Alex Ovechkin has eight goals, Evgeny Kuznetsov has eight assists, Nicklas Backstrom has six points and T.J. Oshie has four points.
But there are two players in the top six who have been fairly quiet and it is two players the team needs to have big seasons from.
Andre Burakovsky looked poised for a breakout season in 2016 when he scored two goals in the season opener. A 26-game goalless streak followed leading Barry Trotz to scratch Burakovsky. But, in the playoffs, Burakovsky was given a promotion to the top line and responded with three goals in three games.
That was how he ended the 2016-17 season. So far, that finish has not carried over to this season despite playing alongside Backstrom and Oshie as Burakovsky has just two assists. He has not been terrible, but he has not looked like the breakout player the Caps were hoping for.
“Burky's pressing a little bit at times,” Trotz said to reporters Thursday after the team’s practice. “I'd like to see him hit the net. You can't score if you don't hit the net and I think he's got to put the puck on the net. He's getting some really great looks. When I do chances most nights, I'll put 65 grade A failed because he missed the net.”
Burakovsky has only hit the net four times in four games, but has five missed shots.
But he is not the only player in the top six without a goal. Jakub Vrana, who had to compete in training camp to make the team, has been playing with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. He has not looked out of place in the NHL, but while his line is producing at a frenetic pace, he is not with just three assists.
“Actually, I just sat with [Vrana] and just went over some little details that he can continue to get better at as a young player,” Trotz said, “So he doesn't get jammed up that, you know, I'm not scoring so I'll start cheating in this area.”
Now let’s be clear, recording two assists and three assists in four games is not bad. The issue is not that they are playing poorly, the issue is that they have not been able to put away their scoring opportunities and if frustration over those missed opportunities will ultimately affect their game.
“Mostly offensive young guys, they think that total validation is scoring in this league and it's really not,” Trotz said. “We talked about being sustainable in this league. If you're not scoring then there's so many things that you can do for your team and the little details away from the puck, how to get the puck back. Very similar to things that I've said to [Alex Ovechkin] when I first got here, you say to the young guys, you do what you do with the puck. You can score, you can do those things, but do what I want you to do when you don't have the puck so you can have it more so you can do what you do.”