With veteran right wing Justin Williams sick at home and questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Andre Burakovsky found himself back on the Capitals’ second line with center Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson at Tuesday’s practice.
“(Williams) called in this morning,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “ When you have kids who go to school they get sick and they pass it on to their parents. I said there’s no sense getting us all sick. Stay home. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go, but if not we’ll move Burakovsky into his spot.”
Burakovsky, 20, spent the first three games of the season centering the Caps’ second line, averaging about 15 minutes of ice time. But when Backstrom returned from a hip injury Burakovsky was dropped to the fourth line, where he’s averaged just over 11 minutes with left wing Brooks Laich and center Chandler Stephenson.
“I’ve been here before and I know how to handle it and how to get out of it,” said Burakovsky, who was a healthy scratch at the start of last year’s playoffs. “I’m focusing on being really good at practice and hopefully I’ll get up in the lines sooner or later.”
In Friday night’s 7-4 win over the Oilers, Burakovsky saw a season-low 9:01 of ice time. Trotz said he wasn’t pleased with the play of his fourth line and wanted to send them a message.
“I think they have some good elements,” Trotz said. “They’ve got speed, some skill, and two are young guys with some enthusiasm. Their identity needs to be being consistent and being trustworthy and they should be able to produce as well. Against other teams’ fourth lines they probably have more skill and can do some damage.”
As for Burakovsky, whose father, Robert, is in town, Trotz says his ice time will come.
“I told him just be patient,” Trotz said. “Everything is done for a reason. Be it Brooks Laich or Chander or Burt, when they get out there they have to be really detailed.
“Don’t worry about the minutes. Worry about the consistency and quality of play within those minutes. I’m trying to get minutes for everybody but against Edmonton they got less. I didn’t like their game as a fourth line and they will agree with you on that I’m pretty sure. They didn’t have a great game in Edmonton so they got less minutes.”
Despite his limited ice time, Burakovsky has two goals and three assists and is a plus-1 in his first seven games and clearly looks more comfortable on the wing than at center, a position he had never played before early last season.
“Barry wants me to play a lot but right now all the lines are playing well,” Burakovsky said. “I’m just going to stay with it. The only thing that matters is winning the games.”
Waiting their turn: Center Michael Latta and right wing Stan Galiev have played in just two of the Caps’ seven games this season and both said they are itching to get back in the lineup. One of them could if Williams cannot play on Wednesday.
“Nothing I can do,” said Latta, who has not played since the Caps’ 5-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks. “Everybody’s playing so well right now. I need to be patient, work hard and wait for my chance.”
Galiev, who has not played since the Caps’ third game of the season, is taking the same approach.
“Just stay positive,” Galiev said. “I’m living the dream. I just have to be ready. I cannot go down a negative road. I can’t complain.”
Injury update: Right wing Chris Brown, who injured his hand during the preseason, practiced with the Capitals in a non-contact jersey. Trotz said he would be sent to AHL Hershey once he is medically cleared.
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