Monday, June 25, 2018

Washington Capitals: 2017-2018 By the Tens -- Forwards: Andre Burakovsky

Andre Burakovsky

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Andre Burakovsky scored a goal in his first game, in his fourth shift as a Washington Capital in the home opener to the 2014-2014 season.  In retrospect, it was perhaps not the best thing that might have happened to him.  The 23rd overall pick of the 2013 entry draft, he bypassed the AHL and went from Canadian junior hockey to the NHL at the age of 19.  When he scored that goal in the 2014-2015 season opener, he became the fourth-youngest Capital to score a goal in the NHL in more than 25 years (only Connor Carrick, Tom Wilson, and Jan Bulis scored goals when younger than Burakovsky).

Since then, Burakovsky has been equal parts frustration and enigma.  The frustrating part is what has become a persistent propensity for injuries.  He missed 15 games of the 2016-2017 season to a hand injury, missed another 20 games to a broken thumb this past season, and then he missed ten games of the postseason this year to an upper body injury.

The enigma part is his not being immune from the healthy scratch due to inconsistent play.  This season was no exception to the inconsistent play issue.  He had one goal in his first 14 games. He had an eight-game streak without a point in games straddling the old and new year of the season.  He had one goal in a 14-game stretch over a month from late-February to late-March. 

What it meant for Burakovsky in the 2017-2018 season is another drop in his top end numbers over his last three seasons.  Two years ago, he had 17 goals in 79 games.  Last season it was 12 goals in 64 games.  This season it was 12 goals in only 56 games.  The points exhibited similar declines, from 38 two years ago to 35 last season to 25 this season.  This came despite increases in ice time.  He averaged 13:01 in 79 games two years ago, 13:16 in 64 games last season, and he averaged 13:50 in 56 games this season.

His injuries in in 2017-2018 season make it hard to evaluate his ten-game segments.  For example, he appeared in only one game in the second and third segments, combined (Game 30).  However, he did miss only one game in the last three segments, and he did show some improvement from segment to segment in points recorded.  The number that stands out, though, is that plus-10 in his last segment (covering 12 games).  That and his recording four of his five game-winning goals for the season. 

Fearless’ Take… Getting and keeping Burakovsky in the lineup matters.  He provided the kind of bridge scoring that supports success.  The Caps were 9-1-1 in games in which he recorded a goal and 14-2-2 in games in which he recorded a point.  It wasn’t much different from his 2016-2017 numbers – 7-1-3 when he scored a goal, 21-2-3 when he scored a point.  When he is on his game, he is a potent offensive weapon.

Cheerless’ Take… Yeah, well, about that.  He’d better be contributing offense, because if he isn’t then there doesn’t seem to be a lot there.  Oh, sure, the numbers folks love his possession numbers, but here’s the thing.  Of the 56 games he played this season, his on-ice shot attempts-for percentage at 5—on-5 was 50 percent or better in 37 games.  The Caps were 19-14-4 in those games.  Is he sacrificing outcomes (goals/points) for outputs (shot attempt numbers)?  That might not be the way to frame tine issue, but there does seem to be a disconnect there.

Odd Burakovsky Fact… Andre Burakovsky ranks third on the all-time list of Austrian-born players in career points.  He has a way to go to get to second place. 

Game to Remember… December 19th at Dallas

The Stars have never been especially hospitable to the Caps, whether in their first incarnation in Minnesota as the North Stars, or in Dallas in their current incarnation.  Going into this season the Caps had a lifetime record of 14-26, with eight ties, against the Stars.  This year, however, the Caps were on a run when they descended on Dallas, taking a record of 10-2-0 in their previous dozen games into the December 19 contest against the Stars.  Andre Burakovsky did not have a lot of experience against the Stars, but what he had was rather good: 1-4-5, plus-3, in five games.

Burakovsky opened the scoring, finishing a 3-on-2 rush, taking a cross-ice feed from Brett Connolly and beating goaltender Ben Bishop on the long side at the 10:55 mark.  Dallas would come back to take the lead and then take it again when the Caps tied the game on a second period goal from Dmitry Orlov.  Late in the third period, though, Burakovsky returned the favor to Connolly, sending a pass out from the corner to Connolly easing down the slot.  Connolly’s one-timer beat Bishop with just 3:26 left in regulation. 

That sent the teams to overtime.  With the teams playing 3-on-3, Burakovsky sent a pass from the right point to John Carlson on the left point.  Circling to the top of the zone, Carlson dropped the puck to Burakovsky circling behind him in the opposite direction.  He went wide of Jason Spezza trying to close off the middle, and before Esa Lindell could move across to get into his path, Burakovsky unleashed a shot that beat Bishop cleanly on the far side, and the Caps had a 4-3 overtime win to extend their winning streak to a season-tying high (to that point) of four games.  For Burakovsky, it was his only two-goal game of the season and his only three-point contest of the season, despite skating just 13:18 in ice time.

Game to Forget… December 27th at New York Rangers

The first game after Christmas was a frustrating one for the Caps, as a team and individually.  The Caps might have thought they were getting a night off, since they would face backup goalie Ondrej Pavelec instead of Henrik Lundqvist.  For Pavelec it was his first work in more than two weeks, but the time off did not seem to affect him.  He stopped all 30 shots he faced in regulation and overtime, through which the teams remained scoreless.  In the Gimmick he stopped T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin while Mats Zuccarello and Mika Zibanejad beat Philipp Grubauer to give the Rangers a 1-0 win.  For Burakovsky, it was a lost evening, more or less.  He skated a team-low 8:28 (also a team-low 39 seconds per shift) and had one shot on goal.

Postseason… Andre Burakovsky had yet to make a mark in the postseason in three tries, going 6-4-10, plus-6, in 36 games, and 2018 was little different, but for different reasons.  In Game 2 of the opening round series against Columbus, he took a check from Boone Jenner and suffered an upper body injury in the exchange.  He left having skated just five shifts and 2:12 in ice time.  He would not return to the ice until Game 1 of the conference final against Tampa Bay.  He did not record a point in the first four games of the series and sat for Game 5. Burakovsky returned for Game 6 but skated just nine shifts and 7:31 in ice time, both team lows. 

If Burakovsky was saving it up for something, he cashed it in for Game 7 against the Lightning.  With the Caps holding a 1-0 lead in the second period in Tampa, he scored goals less than eight minutes apart to turn a nail-biter into a more comfortable lead.  The Caps won, 4-0, to reach the Stanley Cup final for the second time in franchise history.  The finals did not feature any Burakovsky goals, but he did have four assists in five games in the Caps’ Cup-clinching series against the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the end…

One gets the feeling that if Andre Burakovsky could remain healthy for a full season, he might eventually figure the rest of his game out and be a foundational component of this team.  It is also important to keep in mind that he will not turn 24 years of age until next February.  And, looking at his overall numbers in four years, he is averaging 16-23-39, plus-10 per 82 games, which is decent production for largely third line responsibilities and averaging 13 minutes and change in ice time.  This argues for patience.

On the other hand, his numbers, both in terms of games played and production, have dropped over the last three seasons, and he still seems prone to being largely invisible over chunks of the schedule.  In that sense, given that he has more than 250 regular season and 49 games of postseason experience, he needs to step up his game.  As he enters the last year on his current contract (he will be a restricted free agent after the 2018-2019 season) his career is coming up to a crossroads – does he take the next step to being a productive top-six quality forward, or will he continue to exhibit the injury tendencies and inconsistencies of the last three seasons?

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America

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