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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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Braden Holtby officially named one of three finalists for 2017 Vezina Trophy

Braden Holtby officially named one of three finalists for 2017 Vezina Trophy

Braden Holtby is officially in the running to repeat as the top goaltender in the NHL.

On Saturday afternoon, the Capitals' goalie was named as a finalist for the 2017 Vezina Trophy, per the NHL release.

The Vezina Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL's top netminder based on regular-season play.

Holtby — who won the award in 2016, joins Canadiens goalie Carey Price — the 2015 winner — and with Columbus Blue Jackets' Sergei Bobrovsky.

The sixth-year Saskatchewan native finished the regular season with a 42-13-6 record in 63 starts. He recorded nine shutouts and had a 2.07 goals against average and entered the postseason with a .925 save percentage.

Holtby finished the regular season with the league lead in shutouts and wins, and ranked second in GAA and third in save percentage.

RELATED: HOLTBY FINALLY SHINES IN GAME 5

 

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Barry Trotz considers drastic lineup change for pending return of Karl Alzner

Barry Trotz considers drastic lineup change for pending return of Karl Alzner

Thanks to the indestructibility of Alex Ovechkin, Karl Alzner remains the only Capitals' player out of the lineup due to injury. Alzner has not played since Game 2 on April 15 of Washington’s series against the Toronto Maple Leafs due to an upper-body injury. His absence in Game 3 was significant because it snapped an iron man streak of 599 consecutive starts for the veteran defenseman.

In a conference call with reporters on Saturday, Barry Trotz said that Alzner is “day to day and he’s improving.” That’s good news, but it does present an interesting dilemma for the Caps. Who comes out if Alzner goes in?

Nate Schmidt has played in relief of Alzner and played well. He has two assists in three games this postseason and scored a goal that was called back because of a controversial goalie interference call. His speed has also proven to be an asset against the speedy Maple Leafs and, should they get there, would also be useful in a second-round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, another team that likes to push the pace.

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Alzner, however, is one of the team’s best defensive players. Washington’s play in the defensive zone has been suspect all series long and the Caps have allowed nine goals in the three games Alzner has been out.

To solve this dilemma, Trotz may make a fairly drastic change to the lineup when Alzner is finally ready to return.

When asked if he would consider using seven defensemen, Trotz did not hesitate with his answer, “Yes, I would.”

A typical lineup consists of 12 forwards (four lines of three) and six defensemen (three pairs of two). Dressing seven defensemen would mean dropping a forward and would represent a pretty dramatic shift considering Washington has not tried this sort of lineup at any point this season.

The benefit of dressing seven defensemen is flexibility. Trotz could use three pairs and use the extra as a situational player for power plays or penalty kills. He could also switch up his pairs depending on zone starts.

Someone would still have to come out of the lineup, but it would have to be a forward and, judging by ice time from the last two games, it’s not hard to figure out who that would be.

Brett Connolly played only 4:26 in Game 3 and 6:12 in Game 4.  He is the only player who did not get any playing time on special teams on Friday. When asked about Connolly’s playing time, Trotz said Thursday, “I felt that the way they were going in terms of the minutes, I just felt, I was going with the 10 or 11 guys we were going with.”

The downside of going with seven defensemen is that it creates uneven pairs and lines, but with Trotz essentially only utilizing 11 forwards anyway it is perhaps no surprise that Trotz would consider the move.

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