For the last couple years, the Washington Capitals haven’t just enjoyed one of the richest rosters in the NHL. They’ve also enjoyed the sort of startling health luck that inspired management to discuss such an advantages in hushed tones.
As they try to sweat out a summer hangover of tough losses, the worry is that some of that luck is running out, and possibly when the Capitals are most vulnerable against top-end losses.
This already seemed like a troubling week, what with a three-game road trip looming in Western Canada and Alex Ovechkin limping off the ice in practice. Tuesday brought a grim announcement: Andre Burakovsky is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks after undergoing surgery on a fractured left thumb.
It was already a rough start to the season for the 22-year-old. Aside from a nice one-goal, one-assist performance against the Red Wings on Oct. 20, Burakovsky had been on a serious slump. He went without a point in five of six games, with that Oct. 20 game representing his production during that span. Overall, Burakovsky generated one goal and three assists for four points in nine games this season.
Such struggles inspired some consternation and/or mild sarcasm.
Even a struggling Burakovsky is better than an absent Burakovsky, especially if Ovechkin needs to miss a little time or is slowed by an issue.
The Capitals are already leaning heavily on defensemen like John Carlson with Matt Niskanen suffering an upper-body injury, so this only makes Washington more reliant on top guys. (Granted, you could also do worse than a projected third line of Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, and Brett Connolly.)
It says a lot about Washington’s previous depth that Burakovsky was only averaging 13:16 TOI per night last season. He was already up to 15:45 per contest this season, and one can only speculate that they may have begun to climb as Burakovsky gained more trust from Barry Trotz.
Now the Capitals must adjust to Burakovsky’s absence, and the young player loses opportunities to work through struggles and rise in his coach’s eyes.
Things look dicey in the short-term for Washington. After winning their first two games partially on the strength of a ridiculous start by Ovechkin, the Capitals are 2-4-1 in their last seven contests. There might be some frustration forming, as they’ve generated a shots edge in three straight games but only have an overtime point to show for those efforts.
The Capitals seem aware that they’re in for a tougher regular-season haul after consecutive Presidents’ Trophy wins, and it looks like there are already some steep hills to climb in the early going.
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