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Andre Burakovsky is officially back for the Caps

Andre Burakovsky is officially back for the Caps

Andre Burakovsky is indeed back.

The Capitals winger participated in his first full-contact practice Friday and afterward confirmed that he’ll suit up against the Lightning at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Saturday night.

“I’m playing tomorrow,” said Burakovsky, who has been sidelined since Feb. 9 with a broken right hand. “I’ve been feeling pretty good lately. I talked to the doctor and obviously it’s not 100-percent. But it feels good and my shot is getting better. The doctor said it can’t get worse, even if it hurts sometimes when I shoot.”

He added: “I can’t really feel [pain] when I’m shooting. It’s more coming a little bit after because I’m not really thinking about it when I’m shooting [since] I’m so focused on my shot and what I’m supposed to do. Right after [the shot] I feel a little, bit but it’s not bad. It’s something I can live with.”

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Earlier in the day, prospect Jakub Vrana was demoted to Hershey to make room for Burakovsky, who had been on long-term injured reserve.

“I’m happy to see him back,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “Nothing against Jake, but you want to see Andre back.”

Burakovsky’s return couldn’t come at a better time for the Capitals, who are in need of a boost. They’ve lost five of their past six games while averaging less than 2.2 goals per game during that span.

During Friday’s practice, Burakovsky returned to his usual spot on the Caps’ third line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller. Connolly and Eller have combined for just three goals and four assists without Burakovsky the past 15 games, a precipitous drop in production from the trio’s pre-injury level.

Eller said it’s too early to know if they’ll pick up where they left off but he said he’s optimistic.

“He makes the team better so we’re glad to have him back,” Eller said. “Andre looked good [and] he’s glad to be back.”

Connolly conceded it might take a couple of games to gel.

“If we can get anywhere close to what we were doing before the break, I think that would be good going into the playoffs,” Connolly said. “He’s obviously a big part of the team and we’re happy to have him back and hopefully we can pick up where we left off.”

Although Burakovsky’s shot may not be 100-percent yet, the 22-year-old winger said he’s in top physical condition after spending the past five weeks working almost exclusively on his skating and stamina.  

“I’m hungry,” said Burakovsky, who will wear a wrap on his wrist and hand for stabilization purposes. “I’ve been out for a while now and I can’t wait to get back in. I’m excited.”

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Caps make 17 cuts Sunday, pare roster to 36

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Caps make 17 cuts Sunday, pare roster to 36

The Capitals have made another significant round of cuts, reassigning 16 players to AHL Hershey and releasing another.

Among the players headed to the Bears are: forwards John Albert, Mathias Bau, Chris Bourque, Dustin Gazley, Hampus Gustafsson, Tim McGauley, Garrett Mitchell, Mason Mitchell and Wayne Simpson; defensemen Kristofers Bindulis, Connor Hobbs, Tommy Hughes, Lucas Johansen, Hubert Labrie; and goalies Adam Carlson and Vitek Vanecek.

The club also released forward Stephen Collins.

The highest profile cuts were Johansen, the team's first round pick in 2016, and Hobbs. The Caps have high hopes for the young blue liners, but it’s obvious both will benefit from some seasoning in the minor leagues as they make the leap from junior to the pro ranks.

Hershey’s training opens on Monday.

After taking Sunday off, the Caps will return to practice on Monday with a roster of 36 players—and three preseason games left to sort out the position battles.  

Forwards Riley Barber, Travis Boyd, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Graovac, Liam O’Brien, Anthony Peluso, Zach Sill, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana and Nathan Walker are left battling for the three available jobs up front.

Meanwhile, defensemen Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, Jyrki Jokipakka, Tyler Lewington, Aaron Ness, Jonas Siegenthaler and Colby Williams are competing for the two open spots on the backend.

Although some players, such as Chiasson and Walker, have already begun to separate themselves from the others, you can expect the competition to intensify over the next week. The Caps host the Devils on Wednesday, then play at the Hurricanes on Friday and at the Blues on Sunday.

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Did Barry Trotz show us what his fourth line will be to start the season?

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USA TODAY Sports

Did Barry Trotz show us what his fourth line will be to start the season?

Barry Trotz likes to play his cards close to the vest. With roster battles and lineup holes surrounding the team, there are plenty of questions for the Caps that need answering this preseason. If you look at how Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes ended, however, he may have given us at least one answer.

At the start of the game, Jay Beagle centered a line with Devante Smith-Pelly and Wayne Simpson on his wings. By the end of the game, Nathan Walker was playing on the left with Beagle at center and Smith-Pelly on the right.

"Walker was giving us some energy, he was giving us some speed and I just made that flip," Trotz told reporters after the game. "I just thought Walks was starting to make things happen. His speed was noticeable, his will on the puck if you will was really good. I thought that'd be a good fit. I just moved him over there and I thought he had an effect on the game."

Could that have been a preview of the team's fourth line?

RELATED: CHIASSON, WALKER MAKE THEIR CASE TO MAKE THE TEAM

Walker turned in another tremendous performance showing great energy, speed and grit. Despite being 5-foot-8, he still remains a feisty player who could be found at the center of every scrum. He exchanged hits and jabs with the 6-foot-3 Klas Dahlbeck multiple times throughout the game and even drew a penalty on the Carolina defenseman as he drove the net after managing to slip away from a hit along the boards.

"He's one of those hard guys to play against because ... they're on you all the time," Trotz said. "When you can affect the opposition and take them out of their game because the way you play, then you're pretty effective."

That brings us back to the lines. The Caps have not one, but two openings on the fourth line to play alongside Beagle. The fact that Trotz put Walker and Smith-Pelly on that line, two players fighting for a spot in the lineup, could be a preview of what the fourth line may ultimately look like to start the season.

That would be just fine with Beagle.

"It's fun to play with a guy who brings that much energy," Beagle said of Walker. "He's always had that energy and he's always been a little guy who grinds it out and isn't afraid to get in there and get in the corners and wins a lot of battles. He's awesome to play with. He's a lot of fun."

At this point, given how he has played in his two preseason games, it is hard to see how Walker does not make the roster. His energy and style are a perfect fit for what the Caps need on their fourth line. He would be an excellent compliment to Beagle and that has not escaped Trotz's notice.

"I think they might enjoy playing together, but they're effective together," Trotz said. "They get on the puck, they work you over and they tire you out. I'll tell you that."

With other players such as Alex Chiasson, Riley Barber and Anthony Peluso still vying to make the team, it is still too early to tell if this is definitively what the fourth line will look like, but the trio certainly made their case.

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