On Wednesday night the Washington Capitals returned home after a three-game road trip to face Conference-rival Detroit. The tilt featured some good (the Caps' continued strong puck possession numbers), some bad (ghastly turnovers and flashbacks to the defensive coverage of the prior two seasons) and some ugly (Jason Chimera's nose), and, ultimately, a disappointing result. But the game also featured a positive that's becoming commonplace, as Andre Burakovsky authored yet another play that should make Caps fans excited about the future:
The play starts with Burakovsky carrying the puck out of his defensive zone along right-wing boards. He has Darren Helm in front of him, shaded to center ice, and Tomas Tatar ready to backcheck up the middle. The Red Wings are in seemingly good position to keep Burakovsky trapped on the right half of the ice:
It's decision time for Burakovksy. Mike Green is open just ahead of him and to the right. A quick pass to Green could probably beat Helm and allow Green to (probably) chip the puck into the offensive zone, or Burakovsky could stay in his lane, try to chip the puck off the right wing boards and chase the puck down himself or carry it in on his own. Given what Barry Trotz had to say after the disappointing road trip through western Canada, you might have expected the chip and chase. Here's Trotz with a perfectly reasonable take (juicy soundbite aside) regarding single-mindedness and decision-making:
"Teams were really clogging us up and when we needed to chip pucks and have self-retrieval we we're trying to dangle," Trotz said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. "I call it analytics death. There's a time to carry and there's a time to self-chip it. You've got all the speed so self-chip it, get on the other side of the guy, and hang onto it. We were trying to dangle guys."
"That takes all of your speed away," he said. "You get into that transition game and you're on the wrong side of the puck. I love that we have the skill that we can carry the puck in, but there are times when we can't and we still want to carry the puck in. It's those little decisions on this trip that we weren't as strong as we needed to be."
Burakovsky has other plans:
When Burakovsky decides to cut across the middle of the ice, it looks as though Helm, one of the fastest players in the League in his own right, has an angle and will force a turnover or a dump-in. But Burakovsky takes a couple of hard strides across the middle and ruins Helm's angle, opening tons of space. By the time Burakovsky is challenged, he's already in the offensive zone face-off circle, a spot from which he is easily capable of scoring. He takes a shot and misses high/wide, but Green is there to retrieve the loose puck.
Following his missed shot, Burakovsky circles around the back of the net and provides Green with some puck support. Green chips an aerial pass to Burakovsky about shoulder-high, but Burakovsky is able to handle the puck and keep the possession going by catching the puck and quickly dropping it to the ice and passing to John Carlson:
There aren't many guys on the team that can take the puck from the air, to the ice, and execute a pass as quickly and accurately as Burakovsky did, and Burakovsky made it look easy, setting up a scoring chance... which Carlson, for whatever reason, passes up. Seriously, he probably should shoot this:
Carlson doesn't shoot, of course, but it all works out as he's able to find Troy Brouwer joining the rush off the bench, and Brouwer managed to not miss the wide open net. The Caps had a 2-1 lead heading in to the third period, and they were feeling pretty good. They hadn't lost a game in regulation when leading after two periods in two seasons, but streaks end.
Of course, part of the reason the Caps weren't able to secure a point was because of the Oatesian defensive zone puck control they displayed, and Burakovsky was one of the main culprits (on Justin Abdelkader's game-tying goal when he tried to dangle Abdelkader rather than taking the simple clear).
The bottom line here is that the kid's still a rookie, and growing pains are inevitable, but he has the skills (and clearly the confidence) to be a difference-maker in the NHL. But don't take our word for it, just ask Mike Babcock:
Mike Babcock:Well, I would say this is it. I know Trotz is a real good coach. He knows how to go and take a culture to an organization. He’s done it before and he’s got instant credibility when he walks in the door. He’s won over 500 games in the league. That doesn’t happen by accident. So sure I know him real good, but I didn’t know the players. 65– how do you say his name?
Mike Babcock: We’re all going to know his name in a hurry, aren’t we? Like I mean he’s flying.
The Caps lost on Wednesday night in disappointing fashion, but the early returns on their possession numbers as a team are still among the best in the League, and they certainly have the game-breaking talent to win close games. If they can cut down on the defensive lapses and continue the strong puck possession they should be a tough out every night. And, if nothing else, it sure looks like Andre Burakovsky is ready to keep us entertained all year.