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The Play that Doomed Andre Burakovsky

Barry Trotz gave his young center a test. He failed. So what?

Al Bello/Getty Images

Okay, so maybe that title is a bit dramatic, but hear me out.

Back on November 27, Andre Burakovsky was fairly well-entrenched as the Caps' second-line center. He'd started nine-straight games there, and, despite a bit of a drop in production for the trio after a hot start to the season, things (for he and his linemates) were going pretty well. Here's how those nine games looked in terms of usage:

9 game Burra

But following an ugly loss to the IslandersBurakovsky was demoted to the fourth line for the second game of the Thanksgiving-sandwiching home-and-home. Then this happened:

Soon thereafter, Barry Trotz talked about the situation, and The Post's Alex Prewitt recounted it:

On Wednesday against the Islanders, Burakovsky didn’t appear for the final 10 minutes of a tie game because Trotz wanted more experience up the middle. Earlier that night, however, Trotz also threw Burakovsky into a tough situation to show confidence. The Capitals had just taken a 2-0 lead and Burakovsky’s line had performed well, so Trotz deployed those players against the Islanders’ top line, anchored by captain John Tavares.

Seconds later, Tavares scored because Burakovsky missed his assignment off the draw. Burakovsky’s shifts grew further apart, then nonexistent by the end. The shift also served as a barometer.

"If they wouldn’t have scored, I would’ve given them more and more," Trotz said. "But they scored, so you have to pull it back. Was he over his head on that one? Is he not quite there yet? There’s always a risk. If you try to force-feed it too much, the players look at you like, ‘Trotzie, what are you thinking?’ But it’s a feel. I gave them a shot, and they scored. We ended up coming back. We fought through that. That’s the whole process with young guys."

It was actually a bit of a curious deployment for Burakovsky, but one that showed his coach's confidence in him:

"We just scored our second goal and I said you know what, I’ve got a defense pairing we want, these guys have been playing pretty good, I’m going to give Burakovsky a shift against Tavares," Trotz said. "I was showing confidence. I know he could do it. And what happened? They scored."

That confidence seems to have disappeared since then.

Burakovsky spent the next three games on the fourth line before getting another one-game shot at the second-line center spot and then healthy scratches in five of the next six games, only getting back into the lineup as the fourth-line left wing when Jason Chimera needed to sit out a game and think about his on-ice discipline. Burakovsky's ice time dwindled from to 13 minutes of five-on-five minutes per game during that nine-game stretch to 7.2 minutes since.

And now Burakovsky is in Hershey.

That, in and of itself, isn't such a bad thing - he's a super-talented 19-year-old who needs to play. And apparently he'll be back in D.C. after a couple of games. But we talk a lot about "the big mistake," and Burakovsky seems to have made one here (though if getting beat by John Tavares is grounds for demotion, the AHL is going to be flooded with talent). It's one that clearly made an impact on Barry Trotz and he's done what he's done in response. And that response has made the Caps a worse team.