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Burakovsky has Caps' second line humming

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Burakovsky has Caps' second line humming

Through his first 38 games this season, Andre Burakovsky had four goals, six assists and a healthy helping of self-doubt.

Today, the Capitals’ lanky left winger celebrates his 21st birthday on the hottest scoring streak of his NHL career. Since being promoted to the Caps’ second line following  a hand injury to center Jay Beagle, Burakovsky has six goals and seven assists in his last 10 games and five goals and three assists during a seven-game scoring streak.

“Two things have happened,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said when asked about Burakovsky’s sudden breakout.

“No. 1, when he started where he did this year (on the fourth line) he let that affect his play. I don’t want to say this, but seeing what I’ve seen with other players, he was doubting himself. He wasn’t quite accepting where he was at in his positon and therefor he let everything else clutter what he needed to do in terms of his work ethic and all the things to get on track.”

That’s when Trotz suggested Burakovsky sit down with mental strength coach Eric Hoffberg, a former special ops soldier who was hired by the Caps last season.

“All of us tried, but I think (Burakovsky) did a lot of talking with Eric Hoffberg, who got him in a good place. He started getting a little bit more opportunity because he was earning it, even in practice, and he sort of ran with it. But it wasn’t until he really got all the clutter out of his head. So, he wasted a lot of time thinking about things that weren’t in his control. When he realized he could only control (so much) his game started getting better and I tried to get him moved up.”

Burakovsky acknowledges that he let his own expectations, along with being sequestered to the Caps’ fourth line, get in the way of him being a productive player. It wasn’t until he started finding value in the little things – like being a plus player and improving in his own zone – that he began seeing his offense come back.

“When you start getting frustrated, that’s when (bad) stuff is going to come up,” he said. “You just have to stick with it and believe that it’s going to come.

“I’ve been feeling it for a long time now. My game is really coming back and it feels really good right now.”

Of course, playing with a budding star like Evgeny Kuznetsov and a savvy veteran like Justin Williams hasn’t hurt. Over the past 10 games Kuznetsov has two goals and 14 assists and Williams has four goals and five assists.

Williams said he noticed at the start of the season Burakovsky was waiting too long to shoot and his shots were getting blocked or deflected. Now, he’s shooting the puck quicker, making it more difficult to stop.

“That comes with learning the NHL and learning you don’t have enough time. If you think you have two seconds, you have one.

“Guys have good sticks and you’ve got to get your shot off quick. It’s not always how hard it is. It’s how quick you can get it off and how accurate you can be with it.”

With Marcus Johansson expected to rejoin third-line wingers Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson during the Caps’ current three-game road trip, a position he’s likely to keep when Beagle returns from his injury, Burakovsky appears to have nailed down a spot on the Caps’ second line.

“I’m just enjoying playing with him,” Kuznetsov, 23, said. “He listens to me and Willy and we have some connection. You can see we’re all playing better as a line. He’s a smart young guy and he listens to us. It’s a cool moment for us to grow up together as NHL players and I hope we’re going to play many years together.”

Williams, 34, said he’s happy to play alongside a center as talented as Kuznetsov, saying he sees the game like few players in the league.

“Kuzy’s one of the best I’ve ever played with at finding guys and giving them that extra second because of his deception,” said Williams, who’s on pace to have his most productive season in four years.

“He’s very mature for his age on the ice. When he comes to the bench and has something to say you’re going to listen to him because it seems like he thinks the game a step ahead of everyone else. You have to expect the unexpected from him.”

RELATED: Caps counting on healthy Johansson, Orpik

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Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Vincent Trocheck scored on the power play with 18.7 seconds remaining and the Panthers escaped with a 3-2 victory on an emotional night in Sunrise, Fla.

Trocheck’s goal was Florida’s second in the final four minutes…and the Caps were left to lament yet another incomplete performance. Washington has now lost three of its last four games and fell to 4-5-2 in February.

Tarik’s three stars of the game:

1-Vincent Trocheck, Panthers

Trocheck did what Trocheck does in the third period: The Florida forward scored a clutch goal in the final seconds, redirecting a Jonathan Huberdeau shot through Brooks Orpik’s legs and past Braden Holtby.

Eller was in the penalty box when Trocheck scored his 13th third period goal of the season.

2-Andre Burakovsky, Capitals

After losing a goal to Eller in the first period, Burakovsky made sure he didn’t go home empty-handed. No. 65 scored on the power play in the second period to put the Caps ahead 2-1.

It was Burakovsky’s third goal in six games. He also earned a secondary assist on Eller’s redirection score.   

3-Braden Holtby, Capitals

Following a handful of un-Holtby-like performances lately, Holtbeast roared Thursday night at BB&T Center. He made at least one game-saving stop in each period: an arm save on Trocheck in the first period; a pad stop on Denis Malgin in the second and another extended pad stop on Evgenii Dadonov in the third. Holtby finished with 30 stops.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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4 reasons why the Panthers beat the Caps

4 reasons why the Panthers beat the Caps

The Caps looked like they had the win in hand as they led 2-1 late in the third period, but things went off the rails in the final four minutes in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers

Here's how the Caps lost.

An emotional start for Robert Luongo

Before the game, Roberto Luongo took the mic during an emotional tribute to the victims of the tragic Stoneman Douglas school shooting. As a writer, it was hard to get into the game after that. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for Luongo to focus to actually play in the game. But he did. He started off very well, making several strong saves in the first period. Washington scored late in the opening period after an offensive cycle of over a minute that completely wore out the Panthers' skaters. Otherwise, Luongo was brilliant turning aside 13 of the 14 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes.

Another shaky start for Braden Holtby

This was the best game we have seen from Braden Holtby in a while as he made a number of phenomenal saves in the second and third period. In the first, however, he continued to struggle. Maxim Mamin scored his first career NHL goal and point as a puck trickled through Holtby and Mamin was able to slam it home. Holtby was dealing with a screen, but reacted late to the initial shot and late to Mamin.

Aleksander Barkov splitting Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson

With a 2-1 lead late in the third, the Caps looked like they had control. But with less than four minutes remaining, Aleksander Barkov was able to split Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson to set up Nick Bjugstad for the game-tying goal. Ovechkin was backchecking, Carlson stepped up on him and then...nothing. It looked as if both players thought the other would take Barkov and Ovechkin let up at the same time Carlson skated past giving Barkov a lane to the net.

A late penalty to Lars Eller

With the game tied late, the Caps were exerting their will in the offensive zone with the cycle that had been dominant all game long...and then Lars Eller tried to set a pick on Bjugstad, knocking him to the ice. It was an obvious interference call with just 42 seconds remaining in the game. Florida would score 22 seconds later to deny Washington not only the win, but a point as well.