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Burakovsky ready for some heavy lifting

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Burakovsky ready for some heavy lifting

Andre Burakovsky remembers the awkward feeling he had when he first walked into the Capitals locker room as a wide-eyed 19-year-old rookie trying to make a good first impression.

“I was kind of nervous to fit in with the guys,” Burakovsky said following a recent workout at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where the Caps begin training camp today with off-ice testing, physicals and promotional shoots. “This year it’s real fun to be back with the guys and I’m not nervous at all, actually.”

Last season was an interesting rookie year for Burakovsky, a quiet and talented forward taken by the Capitals with the 23rd pick of the 2013 NHL draft. Coming off a 41-goal, 87-point season with the OHL Erie Otters the year before, Burakovsky scored a goal in his first NHL game and immediately looked like he belonged with the big boys, recording three goals and nine assists in his first 15 games with the Caps.

Asked about his early success in mid-November, Burakovsky said the transition to the NHL was easier than he anticipated, but it was about to get harder.

RELATED: Burakovsky wants Caps 'bro-mance' to continue

From Nov. 14 to Dec. 4 Burakovsky had one goal, no assists and was a minus-5 and Capitals coach Barry Trotz yanked him from the lineup, making him a healthy scratch in eight of the team’s next 11 games. During that time Burakovsky missed a chance to play for Sweden in the World Junior Championships.

He returned to the lineup for 10 more games and scored three more goals, but Trotz was unhappy with his defensive play. Over the final two months of the season Burakovsky was assigned to the AHL Hershey Bears on four separate occasions and was a healthy scratch for the Capitals 10 more times, including the first three games of the playoffs.

Burakovsky, who finished the regular season with nine goals, 13 assists and a plus-12 rating in 53 games,  quietly stewed, saying he wanted to prove to Trotz that he belonged on the ice and “not in the stands.”

He was given that chance in Game 4 of the Caps’ first-round series against the Islanders and he was a solid two-way player for the remainder of the playoffs, averaging 12:24 of ice time and having a monster two-goal game against the Rangers in Game 4, where he showed off his lightning-quick release to beat Henrik Lundqvist twice in the same game.

“I think the playoffs were really important for me to prove I could play at such a high level,” Burakovsky said. “I was really happy with my playoff. I thought I played really good and that’s something I can take into this season.”

By the end of last season Burakovsky was up to 200 pounds, far bigger than the 178 pounds when he was drafted. But the Caps wanted him to come to training camp stronger, both in the upper body and in his core muscle group.

After the Bears were eliminated in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs, where he scored a goal in his only playoff game, Burakovsky said he took off five days before starting on- and off-ice workouts in Sweden, where he worked on strengthening his core.

He returned to Washington weighing 205 pounds and feeling better equipped to handle the heavy interior play of the NHL.    

“I just feel like I can handle the hits better,” Burakovsky said. “My balance is a lot better this year because I worked a lot with the core. It feels like I have a lot more balance when I’m skating and guys hit me.”

“I feel really good. My skating feels good, my legs are a lot stronger, too, and my shot is good. It feels really good to get to camp.”

With center Nicklas Backstrom recovering from offseason hip surgery, Trotz has told Burakovsky to be prepared to play both center and left wing during the Caps’ seven-game preseason, which begins on Monday night.  

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Burakovsky said. “It doesn’t bother me at all. I can play center, left wing, right wing. It doesn’t matter to me at all. I just want to give 100 percent.”

However he is used, Burakovsky said he is certain of one thing. At the age of 20 he is much more prepared to be an impact player in the NHL this season than he was a year ago.

“I think the longer you stay in the league you get more comfortable with the routine and how the game works up here,” he said. “I feel a lot more comfortable this season than last season.”

MORE CAPITALS: Report: Nikulin will not join friend Ovechkin in NHL

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.