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Will Andre Burakovsky's demotion spark the Caps' third line?

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Will Andre Burakovsky's demotion spark the Caps' third line?

Andre Burakovksy was bumped down to the third line on Thursday as Caps Coach Barry Trotz attempts to jumpstart the scuffling winger and ignite his team’s inconsistent goal production.

The move, of course, reunites Burakovsky (0 goals, 2 assists) with Lars Eller (0 goals, 2 assists) and Brett Connolly (1 goal, 1 assist).

Among Trotz's reasons for making the switch:

  • The trio had a very productive stretch together midway through last season…and all three could use a spark right now.
  • A shakeup was probably in order, anyway. The Caps have scored two or fewer goals in three of the past four games. Now two lines have new pieces, with Burakovsky joining the third line and rugged winger Tom Wilson (0g, 0a) on the left side of Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. In fact, Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie have accounted for 77-percent of the team’s goals thus far.
  • The move puts Burakovsky, a left shot, on the right side. Trotz believes he’s more effective attacking from that position.   

Asked about Burakovsky’s struggles, Trotz acknowledged that he’s seeing what everyone is seeing: No. 65 is taking too long to pull the trigger on his shots.

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“He is taking a little bit too long and they’re getting blocked,” Trotz said. “The window is so small in this league because the defenders are good and there’s back pressure [from forwards]. And when the window gets extended from his standpoint offensively, those windows of opportunity get shut down real quick.”

Burakovsky has also missed the net—a lot. According to NHL.com, he’s put nine shots on net (four snap shots, four wrist shots and a redirection). He’s also misfired nine times, sending two over the net and seven wide of it.

“Right now, when I didn’t score yet, I’m trying to just snipe a little bit too much, just trying to pick that one corner instead of catching [the puck] and getting it off really quick and maybe surprise the goalie,” Burakovsky said. “I’m just trying to do a little bit too much right now. That’s what happens when you want something to really happen. I really want to get going, get my game going. And then you try to force stuff. …It’s just confidence. When I get the first one, they are going to start coming automatically.”

He added: “I’m not worried at all.”

More from Burakovsky on speeding up his shot.

As for moving Burakovsky to the right side, Trotz explained: “Playing on the [right] side it allows him to get a shot off a little quicker than playing on the left side. Because when you’re playing the left side you’re either shooting a little bit from the outside or you’re dragging it into the middle and then you’re trying to turn your body and get through.”

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Eller said it only took a few minutes for the trio to begin feeling comfortable again.

“There is chemistry there that we know is there,” he said. “We felt it in practice, created a couple of good looks. It feels really natural playing with Conno and Burky. When you have good chemistry you have anticipation for each other’s next move. You just know what the guy is going to do next and where the puck is going to go next. That’s chemistry and we have some of that.”

Obviously, it’s impossible to know if the move will have the desired effect. But we do know this much: the one thing that’s kept Burakovsky from reaching the 20-goal plateau in past seasons were extended droughts. And this—if he doesn’t get on the board soon—is threatening to become another one of those.

“I said [to him], ‘Don’t think too much,’” Trotz recalled of a recent conversation he had with the 22-year-old. “Just understand you’re going to be a real productive player in this league for a long time, and understand what’s giving you trouble finding the back of the net.’ I think he’ll be fine.”

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Why Tom Wilson’s return to the lineup could shake up the Caps roster

Why Tom Wilson’s return to the lineup could shake up the Caps roster

The return of Tom Wilson Tuesday gave Todd Reirden his full offensive lineup for the first time this season. It is not hard to figure out where he fits in the lineup. The real question is now what his return means for the rest of the roster.

Wilson found a home on the top line last season alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. He provides defensive balance to a very offensive duo; he is able to win puck battles along the boards because of his physical play, which generates more offense and he has the offensive skill and skating ability to keep up with his incredibly skilled linemates.

That was all evident on Tuesday, as Wilson scored a goal in his return in very typical Wilson fashion.

After trying in vain to find a suitable replacement for Wilson on the top line, Reirden immediately plugged him back into the top line. Instantly, a lineup that looked jumbled with players trying to find their spots suddenly looked complete again. The top nine that Washington rode to the Stanley Cup last season was restored.

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly

With Wilson back, Washington is at the maximum roster limit of 23 players and just slightly under the salary cap. But they also have two extra forwards on the roster. Most teams do not typically carry two extra forwards because it means sitting two assets in the press box every single night. You need one to plug in in case of emergency, but a second is most likely better served being traded or moved down to the AHL.

Assuming the top nine sticks, that leaves the team with Nic Dowd, Travis Boyd, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson and Dmitrij Jaskin.

If the Caps were interested in moving one of those players, a fourth line player won’t yield much in a trade. That makes placing a player on waivers as the best option.

The question is who?

There are compelling reasons to keep each of those five players. Dowd and Boyd are centers and a team can never have enough of those, Smith-Pelly was one of the team’s playoff heroes with seven goals in the postseason and Stephenson brings a lot of speed. The most likely choice would appear to be Jaskin who has only two points in 12 games since he was claimed off waivers by the St. Louis Blues. There is clear potential there and he has improved drastically since he was first acquired just prior to the start of the season. There is definitely more there than what we have seen from him.

But Jaskin also was not part of last season’s Stanley Cup roster.

The good news for Jaskin and all the team’s depth players is that there is no rush for the Caps to make any sort of roster move since they can technically carry the current roster as is and, per Cap Friendly, they can still fit everyone when Brooks Orpik returns from LTIR by sending Jonas Siegenthaler back down to Hershey.

But a decision is likely to come sooner rather than later to avoid having to sit two forwards in the press box every night. That makes these next few games critical for everyone on the fourth line to make an impression.

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Capitals mailbag: With Tom Wilson back, does that fix the penalty kill?

Capitals mailbag: With Tom Wilson back, does that fix the penalty kill?

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Nov. 14 edition below. Have you got a Caps question you want to be answered in next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com

Please note some questions have been edited for clarity.

Getting Tom Wilson back certainly helps in terms of the penalty kill. The Caps killed off five out of six power plays in Tuesday’s win over Minnesota and the only goal they gave up came after the game was no longer in doubt. In his very first game back, Wilson logged 5:23 shorthanded minutes so you can see how important he is.

Todd Reirden wanted the penalty kill to be more aggressive this season, but the Caps have not found a way to do that while not leaving themselves vulnerable defensively. It will take time to adjust. The first goal of the game Sunday against the Arizona Coyotes came because the penalty kill got caught in the offensive zone with three Caps players going behind the goal line and they could not get back in time to set up. That’s a coachable moment. You show that video and tell the players if you are on the PK, you should never be behind the goal line.

The best thing they can do is study Arizona’s penalty kill. The Coyotes rank first in the league at 90.6-percent and have also scored an unfathomable nine shorthanded goals already, less than a quarter of the way into the season. That’s the type of penalty kill Reirden is looking for so find out what makes it so effective and replicate that.

Let’s not get too low on the power play. It still ranks second in the NHL at 30.3-percent. The production we saw at the beginning of the season was simply unsustainable. The bigger problem offensively has been five-on-five scoring, but Wilson’s return has set the lines right so that should improve as well.

From Nathan S.: I always hear that what happens on the ice stays there but I have to imagine that some tense words can be exchanged between players who have had nasty hits on them, i.e., would Pens players “have words” with Wilson about his dirty hits if they came across him in a bar? Do players ever confront their opponents off ice or do they all go hang out together after the games the way NBA players apparently do?

There are occasions where bad blood can carry over off the ice. It happens, but for the most part players and coaches are good at moving on.

It is important to remember that the division among teams and rivalries run much deeper among the fans than they do for the players. Players are very good at compartmentalizing and moving on from frustrating incidents because they have to, not just in terms of looking towards the next game, but because of their relationships with one another. These players train together, many have played together or will play together in the future. Heck, you may even play for some of those players you play against someday so it doesn’t make sense to burn bridges because you can’t let something that happened on the ice go.

Dmitrij Jaskin fought Wilson on Sept. 22, 2017. The Caps didn’t ask him if he was still upset with Wilson before claiming him off waivers because you have to move on.

That’s not to say all the players like each other. I’m sure Alex Ovechkin and Nazem Kadri aren’t buddies just like I doubt Zach Aston-Reese will be sending Wilson a Christmas card this year. But most players are smart enough to know to leave it on the ice.

Ryleigh V writes: How can I meet Oshie?

The Caps hold a number of events every year in which players interact with fans. Oshie in particular is very good at those kinds of things. My advice would be to check on the Caps’ website or their twitter account for any update on any local events. Sometimes you can meet players after practice as well at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, but not always.

Or you could just try to catch the same Metro train as him on the way to a game. If you do meet him, just don’t ask him to drink a beer through his shirt. A lot of people keep asking him to do that.