The score was knotted at one with 25 seconds left to play. Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, coaching his first regular season game for his new club, sent out Eric Fehr, Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Orpik and John Carlson to take an offensive zone draw at 19:35 in the third period.
One player joined that group to give Washington five skaters. Andre Burakovsky. He had seeminly earned Trotz’s trust with a strong preseason and the Capitals lone goal in their season opening shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Burakovsky netted his first NHL goal in his first NHL game. He became the 13th Capitals player in franchise history to score in his first NHL game, Jakub Klepis was the last player to do so in Washington. He was the Capitals best possession player on the night as well, recording a 75% corsi-for percentage according to Hockey Stats.
I'm thinking it won't take long for the "Burakovsky should start in Hershey" crowd to be silenced.
— Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) October 9, 2014
The Capitals rebuilt their defense this summer. Brooks Orpik, who recorded six hits in his first game with the Capitals, along with Matt Niskanen will be required to log huge minutes for Washington throughout the term of their contracts. With all the dough dished out to the blue line, the offense was not improved. They lost Mikhail Grabovski and their lone additions include Liam O’Brien along with fourth liners already in the Capitals system.
Andre Burakovsky is their second line center; your assessment on that situation depends on your philosophy. While many may view the youth is a good thing, having an inexperienced center playing a crucial role in the top six forward corps is a trying situation.
His goal scored 6:43 into the second period was a result of pressuring the pick. Montreal star defenseman P.K. Subban turned the puck over following pressure from Andre Burakovsky behind the net and linemate Troy Brouwer in front of him as he geared up the ice hoping for a clean breakout. Brouwer stripped Subban of the puck, finding a relocating Burakovsky in the slot who had already initiated his intentions. Burakovsky ripped Brouwer’s feed past Canadiens backup goalie Dustin Tokarski who didn’t have a prayer.
“Very good,” Barry Trotz said assessing the performance of Burakovsky’s first career regular season game. “I thought he was going to have the winner there for a long time. We were really playing quite well. They weren’t getting too many chances and the chances they were getting were mostly results of some zone time and on the face off.”
The talent Burakovsky possesses is appealing, without question. He has the skating ability like not many players have, a high level of intelligence on the ice and a great shot. He has improved on his ability to play without the puck, showcased by his knowledge of where to go on the ice Thursday.
One area the former first round pick must generate consistency is at the faceoff dot. After struggling in the preseason at times, Burakovsky won three of his 14 draws. He won just two of his six faceoffs materializing in the defensive zone, a problem if it persists. Washington has just one dominant faceoff marksman on their roster at the moment in Nicklas Backstrom, who won 65% of his draws (15/23). Experience and repetition could remedy this aspect of Burakovsky’s game.
Caps Fall in Shootout, 2-1
Beyond Burakovsky’s goal, there wasn’t a lot to build on from the Washington standpoint. Braden Holtby played well in goal for the Capitals, who sold out their 223rd consecutive home game. Washington dominated Montreal in the opening frame, outshooting them 15-2. The result was a 1-0 lead from Burakovsky. Like last season, the second period changed the game.
Washington was outshot 12-7 in the second stanza and 22-15 after the first period. The inconsistencies in their game reminded many of the non-playoff campaign last year in the nation’s capital. Both teams went 0/5 on the power play, with Washington generating just four shots with the man advantage over the course of the matchup.
“We had a couple of physical plays and they send their fourth line out and they kind of start a couple scrums,” Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said after his first regular season game with his new club. “After that [the momentum] started to change, maybe that had something to do with it. Our penalty kill did a pretty good job when we were short; we didn’t give up a lot of momentum there. I don’t know what caused [the change in rhythm] but they did have more momentum during the second half of the game.”
Defenseman Mike Green was a healthy scratch as the Capitals played it safe to begin the year. He’s expected to be in the lineup in Washington’s next game against Boston. Nate Schmidt could be sent down to Hershey in a corresponding roster move to get the Capitals down to 22 players, what Barry Trotz envisioned to begin the year.
Matthew Speck covers the Washington Capitals organization for The Hockey Writers. He provides coverage of both Washington at the NHL level and prospect related content. Matthew also covers local sports for the Lebanon Daily News in Central Pennsylvania. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.