GLENDALE, Ariz. – After each game, Andre Burakovsky rates his own play, and while scoring might have been measured over a year ago, that's not the only thing he's concerned about. His production has been uninspiring this season, especially by his past standards, but Burakovsky has tried to focus on his total game, and that's where he was most encouraged.
But with Burakovsky promoted to the Capitals' top line for Thursday night's game against the Arizona Coyotes, he was unhappy with his play. His defensive-zone turnover had the first goal of the game, and he continued to struggle. With Coach, Washington, DC, Coach, Todd Reirden Nicklas Backstrom and Captain Alex Ovechkin, Burakovsky, was the author of this article. a "tough one" for him.
That decision was rewarded with 4:42 left in the third period, when the Burakovsky flashed the offensive skill that's been missing at times this season. He sped up the ice before unfurling a shot from the left faceoff to the game-winning goal. Ovechkin's empty-netter in the closing moments sealed the 4-2 win, the Capitals' first rule win in Gila River Arena since the 2005-06 season, when Ovechkin was a rookie. It also snapped a two-game losing streak.
"I was not really there today," Burakovsky said. "Puck was bouncing and getting away from me all the time. Obviously, I was a mistake on their first goal. . . . This game is funny. You're playing and you've got 1,000 chances and you can not score. And some nights, you're struggling hard and seem to get one. "
The Capitals have not had their full release, and their depleted lineup would have been hit by Tom Wilson. A blinded hit from the Golden Knights Vegas forward Ryan Reaves on Tuesday caused Wilson's helmet to come off, and he hit his head on the ice as he fell to the ground. Wilson was suspended the first 16 games of the season, and his return to Washington's top line helped the team atop the Metropolitan Division standings. He had scored eight goals with six assists in his first 11 games.
Forward T.J. Oshie, who also has a concussion, missed his 10th game Thursday, and that left the Capitals without their two top right wings. Burakovsky got the bump up, and just 4:46 into the game, Burakovsky's defensive-zone turnover to Christian Fischer scoring the game's first goal.
"He was not happy with his first goal-against, and I was not," Reirden said. "But you have to believe in your players and put them in situations to succeed. I moved in and out, but I wanted to go there, and he was able to convert to a huge goal for him and our team. It was a really good moment. "
Burakovsky was Washington's first-round pick in 2013, drafted to be a scoring winger after piling up points his whole life. But that came into the hands of the NHL level, and in part because he has had two seasons, his production has declined. Burakovsky's stress of not scoring often angry with himself, and he was a scoring slump. But after consulting a sports psychologist over the summer, Burakovsky has tried to be more positive with his self-evalutations.
"I'm not drifting away from the game as much as I did maybe two years ago," he said. "Even if I have not produced a lot of things like that, I still think about it. If you look at my play in [defensive] zone and the way I'm handling the puck, it's definitely an improvement. I'm not worrying about putting up points here. As long as we're doing good as a team, to be honest, I do not care. "
Thursday's game was the reverse of that: Four games in the past 12 games.
"Obviously, playing with those guys," "I'm trying to take advantage of it," Burakovsky said. "I do not think I really did much today to help [Backstrom] and Ovi out there. I'm just going to focus on the next one and put this one behind me. "
After the Coyotes took a 1-0 lead into first intermission, the Capitals responded to the second period with Jakub Vrana's third goal in the past two games – and two of those goals have come via assists Brett Connolly, ratcheting up his total to 13, which is one more than he had all of last season. As Washington's top-six body has dealt with injuries, Connolly and Vrana have been the two most productive wingers behind Ovechkin. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Arizona's Lawson Crouse made it 2-1 less than two minutes later, but on his 32nd birthday, Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen scored the tying goal 16 minutes into the second period when his face was defeated Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun in front .
"That was a gift for sure," Niskanen joked. "Not much of a shot."
Considering the Capitals' injury woes of late, they'll take any good fortune they can get. Thursday's win keeps them in first place in the Metropolitan Division.
"It's an opportunity for somebody to move up the lineup or get into the lineup, and we're just trying to take advantage," Niskanen said. "No excuses. Go out there, play the game hard and try to win. The guys that are changing spots or getting lucky in the lineup are doing a pretty good job for us. "