Looking for the Smiles to Come Back

It was odd to go into the same locker room at Verizon, the same media post game press room, stare at the home bench from the press box, and know Bruce Boudreau wasn’t going to be there last night.

If it feels a bit odd to a reporter, I can only imagine what the players are going through right now.

And no wonder. Finding out Monday morning your coach is gone, coming to the rink for a practice you’re not sure will be run differently from your normal routine (and, even if drills stay the same, it’s going to feel different), facing a gauntlet of media interviews asking you about a sensitive subject, then knowing you have to somehow get it all together enough to play a solid game the following night—less than 48 hours after you initially heard the news about your coach.

Post-game Tuesday, after the Capitals’ 2-1 defeat, it was definitely not an upbeat locker room. But the players patiently dissected 60 minutes of game time for reporters.

Mike Knuble acknowledged it would have been nice to get a win for Dale Hunter’s first game.

“For us, the rest of the year is going to be such a fine line between winning and losing,” Knuble said. “And it just comes down to one little play here and there. That’s going to be the difference. I expect we’re going to see a lot of games like this, where we’re holding the lead later or trying to push for a goal late.”

The one goal that the Capitals had, however, was  an excellent move by Alex Ovechkin tearing down the right side of the ice. He drew two defensemen, per usual, but he landed a perfect pass between them to Nicklas Backstrom coming down the center with Troy Brouwer. Backstrom then buried the puck past Jaroslav Halak.

However, when asked whether Hunter had tried to adjust anything to help convert the now-standard double coverage on Ovechkin breakways into points, linemate Brouwer said the focus still has been more on the defensive and neutral zones.

“He’s [Hunter’s] more worried about our defensive zone and our neutral zone play,” Brouwer said. “In the offensive zone, he just wants us to be creative, do what makes us successful.”

The Capitals ended up losing the shots on goal contest 30-19, but they also managed to kill off a huge 5 on 3 penalty in the second period after Brooks Laich got sent to the box for tripping and Brouwer followed soon afterwards for a high-sticking double minor that drew blood from former Capitals player and now the Blues’ man Jason Arnott.

The initial penalty killing unit of Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble and Karl Azner did such a good job, however, that the puck ended up in St. Louis’ zone and Backstrom drew a penalty.

“I thought that was a big point in the hockey game, really kept us in it, “Laich said of the 5 on 3. At the time, the score was tied at 1, until Matt D’Agostini scored the game winner in the second on a wrap around and a wide open net that Tomas Vokoun couldn’t get back to defend in time.

The reassuring presence of the night was Dale Hunter behind the coach’s podium. It didn’t seem like the hype or the loss got to him. He appeared ready to assess and improve.

“The guys worked hard tonight,” Hunter said. “They competed real hard. … And that’s what you need to win.”

Hunter said he saw improvement in that there were no odd-man rushes Tuesday against his team, but he said the forechecks have to be better, as well as the d-zone coverage.

“[There are] some habits to break around here and to get Dale’s way going,” Knuble said.

On the opposing bench was a team that knew something of what the Capitals were going through. The St. Louis Blues brought Ken Hitchcock on board in November and rolled to a 8-1-2 record in his 11 games. And it began with a 3-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blues’ T.J. Oshie, who had a goal against the Capitals Tuesday, said it didn’t take long for the Blues to buy into Hitchcock’s system. And while he said winning that first game helped, there was an effort to make a good impression in front of a new coach for the first several games, and the Blues haven’t let up since.

“A couple more smiles, obviously, with the wins coming,” Oshie said when asked what difference he’s noticed in locker room emotions on the run.

The Capitals’ transition may be a bit more complicated than the Blues –Davis Payne was only coach a little over a season and a half compared to Bruce Boudreau’s four years—but if there’s a game that can get the Capitals going emotionally, it will no doubt be Thursday’s battle against Pittsburgh.

Here’s hoping the smiles come back then.

This entry was posted in Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Looking for the Smiles to Come Back

  1. OvieTracker says:

    If the presence of the Penguins with a healthy Sidney Crosby isn’t enough to motivate Ovechkin and the Caps, nothing will. However, a win over them Thursday night will go a long way to bringing a lot of smiles back in the Caps locker room, in the stands at Verizon Center, and for fans watching at home.

    However, let’s be realistic. Thursday’s game is only one game out of 82, without all the hype and hoopla of last season’s Winter Classic either. One game, two points in the standings. No more, no less. Caps fans were ecstatic about the WC almost a year ago. Who knew then it would turn out to be one of only two highlights of the season, the other being the first round playoff series win over the Rangers. Who knew then…

  2. HBH WC says:

    I know it’s only one game but lets see…Blues 2- Caps 1. Blues 30 SOG, Caps 19 SOG…………Hmmmm So, OFB………Who should the Caps fire next????

    Just for perspective… BB’s 1st game was away at Philly. Score: Caps 4 – Phliers 3 in OT: SOG Caps 35, Phliers 25.

    I’m not sayin’……I’m just sayin…

  3. kelly chuba says:

    The Pennsylvania CAPS fans differ from the Metro Area fans in our adoration of all things to come out of Hershey. I adore Gabby and I get upset when Neuvy isn’t in goal.

    I do not think Gabby was the problem in DC and I think we fired our chances with him.

    I wish Dale the very best of luck but there needs to be a roster shake-up and it has to happen soon.

    Ovie needs to give the C to Brooks, take back the A and play disciplined hockey.

  4. Eric says:

    “The guys worked hard tonight,” Hunter said. “They competed real hard. … And that’s what you need to win.”

    What game was he watching? For most of the game, the Caps worked hard (but mainly ineffectively) to clear the puck out the defensive zone and then make a line change. And how about that “OK, you take it” non-hustle by Carlson on an easy icing that was waived off because STL got there first?

  5. Eric – interesting observation. I agree that the ineffectiveness in clearing the zone was perhaps the more lasting impression rather than the working hard, but I tend to think the Caps played poorly offensively because they know they need to fix the d first (basic in any sport), and they were concentrating on that to the detriment of the offensive zone. You could see their wheels turning out there. It was clear that the new mindset was a bit unusual for them (they seemed hesitant to cross over the blueline initially), but I’m guessing Hunter meant they were working hard to think about the changes he asked them to make. In other words, he felt like he got through.

  6. Rob says:

    HBH WC-

    Thank God you’re not the Caps’ GM.


  7. For those who think BB’s dismissal was unwarranted, check out Tarik’s chat with BB this morning — wherein BB basically said “I’m out of tricks,” echoing GMGM’s comment that “the tank was empty.” So whether or not Hunter improves things, BB had to go:

  8. sonja says:

    I dunno … I think I must’ve been watching the same game that Elizabeth watched. The Caps of a week ago never would have or could have killed off a 5 on 3 the way they did last night. That kind of penalty would have resulted in 2 goals against in Saturday night’s game, not the 1 squeaker we saw last night. And when was the last time you saw Ovechkin work/scramble to get the puck past the people protecting him? And do it in a way that resulted in a goal? Yeah, there were some of the old bad habits on display last night … that’s bound to happen because despite our desire to put these guys on a pedestal, they’re just guys with a lot of talent and it’s going to take a while to get their game back. But it will come and the best way we can help is to applaud the moments when they shine and ignore the bad for the time being. Give them their honeymoon with the new coach. If we want this to work, we’ll help it along …

  9. Martin says:

    I was a bit dissapointed the 1st game under Hunter was a loss, but a win against Penguins tomorrow will fix my mood. Hopefully Knuble is quietly wistling while putting a new tape on his penguin-carving stick.

  10. HBH WC says:

    @ Rob
    It’s a good thing most people on this blog are not the GM……….or the coach…..or the assistant coach…….or the equipment guy………..or the bus driver;~) (Zamboni operator?)

  11. sean says:

    Obvious troll is obvious. Until we stop our fascination with offensive-minded D-men we are not going anywhere. Teams just hang out in front of the net and start campfires while our pilons just look on in amazement. Carlson shouldn’t have played another minute after his botched icing touch-up and we just look slow compared to every team we face. I don’t know who needs to go or stay but I’m betting Dale will be here longer than most of this roster.

  12. Eric says:

    @ Elizabeth, @ Sonja,

    There’s a big difference between the changeover from Hanlon to Boudreaux and from Boudreaux to Hunter. In the first case, the Caps were barely a “team” as compared to a bunch of guys wearing the same sweater. To give Hanlon credit – something I’m generally loathe to do – he’d repaired the damage done by Cassidy etc. Boudreaux taught them how to win, and spent a lot of time that first season convincing them that they could win. My assessment of the problem is that he couldn’t teach them how to play for 60 minutes. OK, OK, I’m no NHL coach, I understand the flames are coming. But can anyone really argue that this team has consistently played for the whole game? The game against Nashville is the biggest (and most recent) example of this. They played 55 minutes and stopped. Nashville played 60 minutes and won.

    So when Hunter comes in and plays ‘good coach’ after a bad game for a team that intends on going deep into the playoffs, he missed an awesome opportunity to call out the team for a lackluster performance. They are capable of better play, and they should’ve been called out for it. OK, first game, the new coach doesn’t want to be “bad coach”, so don’t itemize for the press or the fans. We can do that. Maybe he doesn’t criticize, but there shouldn’t have been ANY compliments either.

  13. Will2 says:

    For all those people saying that the C should be riped from Ovey’s jersey – I being one that said he should have never got it in the first place – ain’t going to happen. In a short snippet of an interview seen of Dale Hunter yesterday and asked about the captaincy one of his remarks was that sometimes a captain is quiet in the dressing room. Meaning not getting in players faces when they’re playing bad and not trying to lift the team up and get them going when they’re down by alot of goals. So first major bad decision by the coach. We all know the only reason Ovey wants that’s C on his chest is because Crosby has it on his and Ovey can’t be outshown by Crosby in any light. Watch tonights games and see how much Ovey hogs the puck in order to try and outscore Crosby.

  14. DOC says:

    Well the next person the Caps should replace is OVECHKIN !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.As long as they have the Russian Idiot for Captain they will never have a chance at the Cup.

    Ovie Is Over.Plain and simple he could be the water boy for the Pens.

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