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With 7 shots and an assist, Andre Burakovsky picks up where he left off for Caps

With 7 shots and an assist, Andre Burakovsky picks up where he left off for Caps

Andre Burakovsky’s return from injury surely was a memorable one.

On Saturday night, the Capitals winger registered 11 shot attempts—including a season-high seven on goal—and an assist as Washington earned a pivotal 5-3 win in Tampa.

It would probably be a stretch to say Burakovsky’s absence was a big reason for the Caps’ recent malaise. But it wouldn’t be a stretch, at all, to say the 22-year-old injected a bit of much-needed hunger and hustle into the lineup at Amalie Arena.

“It’s been a long time since my legs has been this good,” Burakovsky said. “I think I was flying. I was creating chances. Everything felt good.”

Burakovsky’s burst, top gear and tenacity did indeed jump out.

RELATED: Caps clinch playoff berth for third straight season

The reason? He said it's because of the conditioning work he put in with strength coach Mark Nemish over the past month while on injured reserve with a broken hand.

“I’ve been working very hard with Nemo in the gym and on the ice,” Burakovsky said. “I’m in phenomenal shape right now. It felt really good to be back.”

In fact, Burakovsky said his skating is much further along than the other parts of his game...namely his shot accuracy. Three of his 11 attempts got blocked while another missed the net.

“I was creating a lot of chances but I was struggling a little bit with my shot,” he said. “But not because of my hand. I don’t know what it was. I haven’t been shooting on a real goalie for a while. I was creating a lot of chances but I couldn’t get any in the back of the net. Out of those shots, I need to get at least one. But a good team win today.”

Burakovsky added: “There was a bunch of times when I was shooting where the puck just hit his chest, just don’t want to do what I want. I’m always trying to pick a corner. I had so many good chances where I definitely should have scored.”

A couple of those prime scoring chances came late in the second period of a tied game. First, Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy turned Burakovsky away at the doorstep with a brilliant toe save. Then, a few minutes later, the Bolts netminder plucked a high, hard wrist shot out of the air from close range.

Burakovsky did, though, find his way onto the scoresheet in the third period when he fed the puck to the point, where Matt Niskanen hammered a shot on net. Justin Williams got his stick on the puck, redirecting it past Vasilevskiy to put the Caps ahead 3-2 and give Burakovsky his first point since Feb. 7—the game before he suffered the injury.

The big question coming into Saturday was whether Burakovsky would be able to pick up where he left off. After all, he was on a tear when he got hurt, having recorded six goals and 13 points in the 12 previous games.

The answer is a resounding, ‘Yes.’

“I’m still a little bit rusty with my shooting,” Burakovsky conceded. “But it’s going to come back, and it’s going to come back pretty soon.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps clinch playoff berth for third straight season

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Caps' Tyler Graovac is the silver lining in an ugly loss to the Blues

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Caps' Tyler Graovac is the silver lining in an ugly loss to the Blues

Barry Trotz didn’t like a whole lot about Friday’s 4-0 preseason loss to the Blues.

One thing he didn’t mind so much, however, was the play of 6 foot 5 center Tyler Graovac.

The fourth liner had a handful of scoring chances and finished the game tied for the team lead in shots on goal with four. The 24-year-old also recorded a couple of hits, won nine of 11 draws and saw a prominent role penalty kill.  

“He’s had two pretty good games,” Trotz said of Graovac, who made his debut against the Devils earlier this week. “We’re getting to know him as a player and a person.”

RELATED: CAPS DEFENSE OVERMATECHED IN LOSS TO BLUES

Graovac was acquired via trade from Minnesota in June so that Washington could protect Lars Eller in the expansion draft. Given that the Caps already had four NHL centers, it was believed that Graovac would eventually end up in AHL Hershey, despite a one-way contract that will pay him $650,000 this season.

That thinking, however, might need to change after his eye-opening performance against St. Louis.

“He’s competing,” Trotz said. “He’s a big man, he’s skating well, he’s creating some things. There’s a lot of good things that he’s done. His faceoffs have been good. We said there are opportunities and he’s trying to grab one.”

Although Graovac is a center by trade, the Brampton, Ontario native said he’d be comfortable skating on the wing if that’s what it takes to win a job.

“Last year in Minnesota, I played right wing, left wing. I really see myself as a forward,” he said. “I’m just trying to show all aspects of my game really. [Penalty kill]. My defensive side. Tonight, I tried to show a little more offense. Speed. I’m going to show them everything I’ve got to the best that I can.”

Graovac said he was playing softball when he found out that the Wild, which had selected him in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, had dealt him to the Caps for a fifth round pick. Once the shock wore off, he came to the realization that a change of scenery might turn out to be good for him. He had split the 2016-17 season between the Wild and the minors.

“It was bittersweet,” he said. “I was with Minnesota since I was 18, but I was thrilled that Washington wanted me. To go from a top-place team in the West to a top-place team in the East that’s closer to home…it was a great change for me.”

Graovac heard the reports that the Caps made the move with an eye on the expansion draft. It’s also likely he’s noticed that his name is often absent from media reports about the youngsters who are vying for jobs in Washington.

But he hasn’t allowed any of that to deter him.

“That’s the vision,” he said of claiming a spot on the 23-man opening night roster. “I try to tell myself that every morning. You put a picture on your wall and you go for it. I try not to look into too many things. Washington wanted me for a reason and I’m really trying to show, ‘Wow, we got this kid and he can do a couple of things here for us and actually make us better.’”

MORE CAPITALS: OVECHKIN'S SURPRISE PUTS A SMILE ON KIDS' FACES

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Thumbs up, thumbs down: Capitals defense overmatched by young Blues squad

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Thumbs up, thumbs down: Capitals defense overmatched by young Blues squad

The Caps dressed a young defense for their preseason home opener and the St. Louis Blues took advantage. The Blues scored twice in a 39-second stretch in the first period and rode that to a 4-0 win over Washington on Friday.

Here is who stood out:

Thumbs up

Mathias Bau: Bau was a player to watch coming into this game because of his size (6-foot-7). He was not supposed to play in the preseason, but his play in camp caught Barry Trotz's notice which led to him dressing on Friday. He quickly showed he was more than just a gigantic human. Bau set linemate Tyler Graovac up twice with great feed passes that could easily have turned into goals. He is a better skater and stick-handler than you would expect for someone of his size. He certainly will not make the Caps roster, but he has shown he is someone the team should keep an eye on in Hershey.

Tyler Graovac: Centering the fourth line, Graovac was the Caps’ best offensive player on the night. He showed good speed and drove the net very well, generating the team's best scoring opportunities. He finished the game with a team-high four shots on goal.

Lars Eller: Eller was one of the few veterans who took advantage of playing against youngsters. He had a strong night offensively and on the penalty kill with three shots on goal and five total shot attempts.

RELATED: CAPITALS MAKE FIRST ROUND OF CUTS

Thumbs down

The defense: It was a very rough night collectively for the Capitals’ blue line. With a defensive lineup that featured only two players from last year’s NHL squad, John Carlson and Taylor Chorney, Washington looked completely overmatched by a youthful St. Louis squad in the defensive zone. Apart from a few good hits from Tyler Lewington, none of the defensive prospects fighting for a roster spot did anything to help their stock at all.

Anthony Peluso: Given the level of competition, Peluso should have been able to contribute more than two shot attempts and two penalties. The days of the enforcer are over. Players need to be able to do more than just drop the gloves. Peluso looks to be Washington’s response to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ acquisition of Ryan Reaves, but he needs to show he can provide the Caps with something other than just fists. The fact that he could not do that against a non-NHL roster is a bad sign.

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