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First things first: Caps' Andre Burakovsky is getting things started

First things first: Caps' Andre Burakovsky is getting things started

Since getting benched for three games in mid-December, Andre Burakovsky has been one of the Caps’ most productive players.

In 15 games since Coach Barry Trotz sat out the 21-year-old winger, Burakovsky has responded with six goals, including goals in three straight games, and 11 points. In the season’s first 27 games, he amassed two goals and 10 points.

Burakovsky was selected as the first star of Thursday’s 7-3 win in St. Louis, where he also recorded a primary assist on Brett Connolly’s second period strike, which ultimately proved to be the game-winner.

RELATED: Q&A: Why a move at the trade deadline is a bad idea

What’s been most impressive about Burakovsky’s recent offensive outburst, though, hasn’t been number of the goals he’s scored, it’s been the timing of them.

In fact, four of Burakovsky’s six goals since the scratching have been the first goal of the game, including the game winner against the Flyers. The Caps earned a point in each of those four games (2-0-2).

Overall, Washington has scored the first goal of the game in each of the last nine contests.

“It’s hard to score in this league, but it’s a lot easier and it’s a lot less draining when you score first,” Coach Barry Trotz told reporters in St. Louis. “You’re not chasing the game.”

Last season, Burakovsky finished with 17 goals and 38 points in 79 games. This season, he’s on pace for 15 goals and 40 points. If he and his linemates stay hot, however, it reasonable to expect him to do a bit better.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Caps' offense stays red-hot

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NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

The Hart Trophy is given to the player judged to be the most valuable to their team. With the Caps currently struggling in almost every aspect of the game, consider this: Just where would they be without Alex Ovechkin?

Washington ranks 10th in the NHL in goals per game with 3.05. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals with 36. He has scored an incredible 19-percent of his team's goals. No one on the Caps is within 20 goals of the Caps' captain.

That's not a typo. Evgeny Kuznetsov ranks second on the team with 16 goals. No other team in the league has a larger separation between its top two scorers. In fact, only three teams have a difference that's in the double digits: Vancouver (11), San Jose (10) and New Jersey (10).

Ovechkin is almost singlehandedly propping up Washington as a top-ten offense. If you think about just where this offense would be without him, there's a pretty strong case to be made that Ovechkin is as valuable to his team this season as any other player in the league.

SEE THIS WEEK'S 2018 NHL AWARDS TRACKER HERE

Here are the Caps' hopefuls for awards this season:

John Carlson

In contention for: Norris

Carlson is fifth among all defensemen with 45 points, but his case goes beyond the numbers. With a blue line that has featured two rookies the majority of the season, an aging veteran in Brooks Orpik and that had to deal with an injury to Matt Niskanen, the Caps have asked a lot of Carlson this season and he has always been up to the task.

Alex Ovechkin

In contention for: Hart

Few players, if any, are as important to their team's offensive production and therefore its success than Ovechkin has been this season.

Check out who the top candidates are for the league's major individual awards in this week's 2018 NHL Awards Tracker!

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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.