It was “tough love” that led Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz to scratch Andre Burakovsky in Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Devils. The Capitals had been struggling over their last few games around the holidays, and Trotz wanted to not only get a good, consistent game out of his forwards but wanted the 22-year-old to learn a lesson from sitting out.
“We just talked a little bit and [Trotz] said he doesn’t think our line has been going like we’re supposed to,” Burakovsky said following Capitals practice Sunday. “He wants me to be a little bit more hungry on the pucks. I agree.”
The season hasn’t gone as planned for the Swedish winger, who is coming off a two-year, $6 million bridge deal he signed in the offseason. There were high hopes that he would fill the scoring void on the top-6 following the departure of Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson. However, he hasn’t been able to produce much so far due to injury woes and inconsistency.
He has just three goals and eight points through 19 games so far this year and is on pace to record just 10 goals and 26 points this season, his lowest numbers since his rookie year. He has just one goal and four points in his first eight games of the year, and a fractured left thumb would then lead to him missing the next 20 games on the season. He has just four points through his last 10 games since returning from injury.He did show a flash of his potential in a Dec. 19 game against the Dallas Stars, where he racked up two goals and an assist to give his team a 4-3 overtime win.
“I felt great in that game, from morning skate to warm-up to first shift to last shift, I felt great,” Burakovsky said. “Obviously, Trotz gave me a lot of opportunities in that game, and it showed that he felt confident in my game. That’s how I need to play every night. That’s what I have to do.”
As Burakovsky looks to rebound, one key step comes with finding confidence and not being too tough on himself, something that he has a tendency to do in the face of poor play.
“I get real hard on myself because I know what I can do, I know what I’m capable to do,” Burakovsky said. I get really hard on myself and it’s tough to create something and get going when you start thinking about mistakes and what you’re doing wrong, it’s tough to go out on the next shift and do something good. That’s just how it works.”
In face of this challenge, Burakovsky said that he has to shift his mentality and have more of a positive outlook, cut back on his self-criticism and leave his mistakes behind him, rather than dwell on them.
“I have to learn to get more mentally strong, I mean, I would say I’m not weak, but I’m a thinker,” Burakovsky said. “This is since I was little kid. I’ve always been hard on myself, even when I was nine years old and had a bad game, I was [upset] at myself and thinking about my game and what I did wrong. I’ve been doing that my whole life. I just have to start thinking a little bit positively about my game, if I do mistakes, just [screw] it and come back the next shift and prove it to you better than the last one. That’s what I’m going to try to do when I come back.”
Not only does Burakovsky have to regain confidence, but he has to step up his performance and make changes to his on-ice game. That also comes from finding consistency in his performance and being able to produce, as well as getting back in sync after missing a handful of games due to injury.
“There’s some things I feel like I’m not really back to after my injury, I guess it’s just taking a little bit longer time than I was expecting,” Burakovsky said. “But I mean, I’m just trying to be positive every day and come to the rink with a smile and try to get better every day.”
Burakovsky has been scratched before in his career due to inconsistency; last season, he sat out after going 26 games without a goal, and he was constantly battling for a spot in the lineup after being unable to capitalize following his rookie season. Both times, being scratched appeared to work as an incentive, and Burakovsky would find his touch and heat up, rebounding accordingly.
“I mean, last year when I was scratched, it worked pretty well for me… hopefully now when I get opportunity next game, for me I’m going to do the same thing, learn a little bit of a lesson here from being healthy scratch,” Burakovsky said. “I want to be out there, help the team compete and help them win. It’s obviously coach’s decision, I’m just going to learn from my mistakes here and come back and play like I’m supposed to.”
The Capitals will face off Tuesday against Carolina, and it is not yet clear if Burakovsky will get his chance to draw back in. He has been cycling in on the fourth line with Alex Chiasson and Chandler Stephenson, two players he will likely compete with for a lineup spot in the coming days. However, when he does slot back into the lineup, he is ready to prove his worth.
“As soon as I get some confidence back and do something good, I’m gonna take off,” Burakovsky said. “I have to work on my game is keep that up, like, for a full year. I can’t have 10 good games and then 10 bad games. That’s part of being a pro, I guess, showing up to the rink, doing your thing and you play like you should every night, that’s what it takes to do in this league and that’s what I have to work on.”