Tuesday, Barry Trotz scratched Andre Burakovsky against the New York Islanders. This was the first time Burakovsky had sat this season. After two goals during the season opener, Burakovsky has been ice cold, going goal-less in his last 26 games.
Capitals GM Brian MacLellan had this to say when asked about his young forward’s struggles.
“I see what he’s working at,” MacLellan said. “He’s a young guy and mentally he’s gotta approach it in a way that’s not about me scoring goals, it’s about me contributing to the team and then goals will come from there.”
“I see him working after practice, Justin Williams takes him out, shoots some pucks and hopefully helps him with his mental game and a mental approach to the game,” MacLellan continued. “I think the goals will come if he plays the game and tries to contribute in enough ways instead of putting pressure on himself to score goals.”
While we cannot read Burakovsky’s mind or know what sort of mental struggles he is going through, we can look at the numbers and they definitely show that he is in a slump of sorts.
There is a lot more to the game than taking shots, but for an offensive player like Burakovsky, the end goal (if he’s playing well) should be to shoot and score. If he is gelling with his linemates and finding space he should be taking shots. This is the rolling 10-game average number of shot attempts per 60 minutes taken by Burra since the beginning of last season (playoffs included).
Leading up to his scratch, Burakovsky was taking about 13 shot attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five. This is lower than his average of about 15 (much lower of his peak of 22 per 60, which came in the playoffs), but on the whole, it’s not a catastrophic dip.
However, on a recent podcast hit for Japers’ Rink Radio, CSN analyst Alan May had an intriguing suggestion about what might be a major source of Burkovsky’s offensive struggles:
“Well unfortunately right now he looks like a one trick pony offensively,” May said. “What I mean by that is that he takes the exact same shot every time he shoots the puck. He only has one play and it’s a curl-and-drag wrist shot, and he’s gotta pull the puck back too far. You saw how few shots he’s had in the last 12-15 games he’s barely registering a shot on net. Most of his shots get blocked, they get deflected, because he always pulls the puck back. He’s gotta learn a lot more releases, he’s gotta have more of a variety of shots.”
As it turns out, the numbers suggest there is some truth to what May is saying. Burakovsky has been putting fewer shots on net than he typically does. Other than a slump early last season, the last 15 games have been Burra’s worst stretch of five-on-five shot on goal generation, dipping to a low of just 0.7 shots on goal per 60 minutes. That equates to about one shot per four games played.
Even more telling is that his number of blocked shot attempts skyrocketed during the games leading up to his healthy scratch. Here is a rolling five-game average of the percent of Burakovsky’s shot attempts that were blocked (this season only), with the Caps as a whole shown for comparison.
The Caps as a team have remained relatively steady, while Burakovsky’s share of shot attempts blocked skyrocketed to above 60 percent. He has been taking a reasonable number of shot attempts, but they are just not getting through. He is also taking those shots at the second furthest average distance among Caps forwards, and his rate of generating individual scoring chances has also tanked to almost zero.
When looking at a “heat map” of Burakovsky’s unblocked shot attempts (courtesy of HockeyViz.com) it shows he is indeed firing from further out than the Capitals forwards who have been having more scoring success.
Contrast this with the heat map of Jay Beagle, who while not an offensive dynamo by any means is still outscoring Burakovsky and has the lowest percentage of blocked shot attempts of all Capitals forwards.
That Burra is getting a lot of shots blocked doesn’t necessarily mean that what Alan May said is the exact explanation, but it does show that one way or another Burakovsky’s method of generating offense hasn’t been working. It’s probably safe to say it’s more than bad luck that he isn’t scoring.
That said, Burra is young and skilled. Helping him find his scoring touch and adapt to the NHL should be a top priority for the Capitals, who will need all the secondary scoring threats they can get.
Data courtesy of corsica.hockey.
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