Becoming Like Their Coach?

Capitals head coach Dale Hunter has implied through his various benchings and healthy scratches this season that the team’s roster, as is, is one he inherited rather than built. But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to rub off on the guys currently playing for him.

In this Boston-Washington series, the Capitals have shown a more edgy style of play than anything they’ve debuted in the previous postseasons. By edgy, I’m talking about things like getting under Milan Lucic’s skin or showing some teeth occasionally when a Bruins player looks ready to take liberties in the Capitals’ crease. Part of it is the nature of the match-up against the physical Bruins, but is there a further explanation?

Karl Alzner wasn’t sure, but Brooks Laich indicated there might be subtle differences.

“I would say mostly just the playoffs,” Alzner said of the Capitals’ newfound edge. “You want to establish some sort of dominance and not really give an inch, and sometimes you do things that you just wouldn’t normally do in the regular season.”

But even Alzner couldn’t explain why things are more chippy this year than in the last postseason.

Laich talked about with the coaching change, there came an identity shift of more battles around the boards, more solid defensive play, and not giving up chances, but his conclusion was enlightening:

“That, and just being challenged by the coaching staff to engage physically,” said Laich, who’s tied with Alex Ovechkin for most playoff points on the team with 4.

The Boston Bruins also come with fairly distinct personality tendencies, and it looks like the Capitals’ pre-scouting has done a good job of taking that into account. When asked about adjusting to a player’s personality–for example, the fact that Milan Lucic likes to get in your face–Laich talked about the pre-scout work the Capitals did going into the series.

“That’s preparation from the coaching staff. That’s the game within the game,” Laich said. “We went over it in the pre-scout before the series of certain players’ tendencies. He’s [Milan Lucic] a big guy and he likes to find his pucks around the net. [Brad] Marchand is a little guy but still likes to find his pucks around the net. We’re aware of certain tendencies.” (Neither Lucic nor Marchand has a point yet in the playoffs.)

The edginess has only been one part of this series, and there were several more key elements to Game 4 that Ed, Ted and I discuss below, like the clock controversy and the special teams’ play.

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