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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.”

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T.J. Oshie puts on a memorable performance in 300th game as a Capital

T.J. Oshie puts on a memorable performance in 300th game as a Capital

300 games. 108 goals. 108 assists.

Just so you're tracking, those are T.J. Oshie's stats through 300 games as a member of the Washington Capitals.

In an outstanding 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers, Oshie scored two power play goals. It was the second time in his career that Oshie recorded two such goals.

Another shot on goal — he had four in the game — would have put him at a nice-and-even 620 during his tenure with the Capitals, but hey, we can't all be perfect.

The statistical-evenness is certainly satisfying, but even if you're not a fan of quirky stats, the man has logged 216 points in 300 games. That's pretty darn good.

T.J. Oshie will seek to continue putting up great numbers as the Capitals embark on a two-week road trip. Their first stop will be Sunday in Chicago for a showdown against the Blackhawks.

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A return six months in the making for defenseman Michal Kempny

A return six months in the making for defenseman Michal Kempny

It took six months of toil and effort for Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny to make it back to an NHL game. 

He last played March 20 when a torn hamstring in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning ended his season just a few weeks before the Stanley Cup playoffs began. That was brutal. 

A spring to heal after surgery, a summer to rehab the injury and weeks getting back in hockey shape were the steep price paid. And then it took him all of 15 minutes to score his first goal on Friday in a game against the New York Rangers. Welcome back, Michal. 

“I felt pretty good, actually. My legs felt good,” Kempny said. “Obviously not an easy situation for me. But I got to say just thank you to all of the staff, whole organization, my teammates, my family, my friends who were supporting me all the way through here and help me. It means a lot to me.”

It was an organizational project. Kempny meant so much to Washington during its Stanley Cup run of 2018. The Capitals felt his absence on the top pair with John Carlson during the first-round series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Washington coach Todd Reirden credited team trainers Jason Servis and Mike Booi and strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish with putting Kempny in position to return early in the season.  

“Six months of investment of their time to get him back,” Reirden said. “I thought Michal looked really good.”

The goal came at 15:16 of the first period and gave Washington a 2-1 lead. Kempny jumped onto a loose pucked batted around by teammate Alex Ovechkin, quickly corralled it and beat Henrik Lundqvist for the goal. It was a pretty play and another indication that Capitals' defensemen are taking chances when they see them on the offensive end. 

In his first game back, Kempny had 14:24 of ice time. That’s about the goal the Capitals had in mind for him. He started on the third pair with fellow Czech Radko Gudas, but also played 3:42 with Carlson, who mobbed Kempny after his goal and gave him a celebratory facewash with his glove. They’re happy to have him back. 

“I just grab the puck and there was open net, so a little lucky for me,” Kempny said. “I was just excited.”

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