Capitals

Hunter Hits The Blues In Debut

By Sky Kerstein
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St Louis Blues v Washington Capitals

(Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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The Capitals came up just short to the red hot St. Louis Blues 2-1 in Dale Hunter’s NHL debut as a head coach.  The Caps, losers of three in a row, didn’t show a lot of signs of life until the third period, plus only got their first power play with 19.7 seconds remaining in the third, and it all added up to another tough defeat.

“For us the rest of the year,”  Caps veteran Mike Knuble Said. “It’s going to be such a fine line between winning or losing.”

And tonight it was as they had only 19 shots on goal, including Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin with a combined three shots on net that all happened in the third period.  The Caps two goals they let in were a combination of defensive breakdowns and bad goaltender play when TJ Oshie put in an Alexander Steen rebound and Matt D’Agostini had a wide open wrap around with Tomas Vokoun out of the crease.

“I thought we limited chances pretty well,” Caps center Brooks Laich said.  “Better than we have in the last two weeks. We still have room to improve – the goals against. Our two mistakes, our line was on for one of them. That puck [has] got to get out twice, we didn’t get it out and it winds up in the back of our net, so it’s baby steps.”

The Caps scored first though when Alex Ovechkin found Nicklas Backstrom in front who beat Jaroslav Halak through traffic, but Halak was solid afterwards stopping 18 of 19 shots on the night.

“Was it a successful night, not by any means,” Caps forward Matt Hendricks said.  “Did we play hard, yes, but things work out when we wanted them to, no, but I think we did a lot of good things tonight.”

The Caps did play better defense for the most part and a big part of that was the play of Tomas Vokoun who stopped 28 of 30 shots and made a couple really nice plays to keep the Caps in it.  The last time the Caps held a team to two goals or less before tonight was November 12th in a 3-2 shootout loss to New Jersey, which was eight games ago.

“No break-a-ways, no 2-on-1,” Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun said.  “We established that this is what we want to do going forward and you know it makes it a lot easier on your goalie. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many shots they get, if there is three break-a-ways in one period it’s pretty tough to play for [a] goalie. But I think we did a good job from [a] defensive side today and you know obviously one goal, is not enough.”

It isn’t going to be an easy transition though from Bruce Boudreau’s very offensive oriented system to Dale Hunter’s more defensive minded system, especially with not many practices in between games, plus it didn’t help they were playing an 8-1-2 Blues team in their last 11 games, but there were only a few bumps in the road tonight.

“It happens with transition,” Head Coach Dale Hunter said.  “They don’t have it down pat yet and I think they got better as the game went on and they competed real hard. That’s the most important thing and that’s what you need to [do to] win.”

Hunter added that they will do mostly video teaching now because of the heavy game schedule and not much work on the ice to rest the players, but it will take time to learn and won’t be a quick fix.

“When you play for a Coach for four or five years,” Caps forward Brooks Laich said.  “You get used to certain things and when somebody else comes in and switches it up, some things on the ice just become second nature and now you have to think a little more and adjust on the fly a little more. The habits of work ethic, supporting the puck, moving your feet, getting pucks out, getting pucks in, those sorts of habits should stay with us. [We’ve] just got to try to pick up a few more good ones.” 

The Caps will try and get back on the winning side of things, as their arch rival, the Pittsburgh Penguin,s come to town on Thursday and Sidney Crosby will make his first trip to DC since last December.  The Caps are 11-0-2 in their last 13 regular season games against the Penguins.

Caps Goals Tonight:

1st 10:15 Backstrom (8), Ovechkin (10), Vokoun (1)

Check out what Dale Hunter, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Knuble, Nicklas Backstrom, Matt Hendricks, Brooks Laich & John Carlson had to say following the loss.

Dale Hunter Postgame Press Conference Video

Locker Room Video (Mike Knuble, Nicklas Backstrom, Matt Hendricks)

Dale Hunter Postgame Audio

Alex Ovechkin Postgame Audio

Mike Knuble Postgame Audio

Nicklas Backstrom Postgame Audio

Matt Hendricks Postgame Audio

Brooks Laich Postgame Audio

John Carlson Postgame Audio

Two side notes:

The Capitals announced that they have named Jim Johnson their new assistant coach and will specialize on defense.  Johnson will replace former assistant coach Bob Woods.  Johnson played in 829 NHL games from 1985-1998 as a defenseman and had stints with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota North Stars, Washington Capitals, Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes.  Johnson played with new Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter from 1993-1996 in 121 games for the Capitals.

Johnson was head coach for 22 games of the Norfolk Admirals in 2009-2010 of the AHL and had a record of 15-5-0-2 during that time, but was brought up to be the assistant coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2009-2010 for some games and then re-assigned back to the Admirals.

Also Caps prospect Mattias Sjogren has decided to leave AHL Hershey and head back to Sweden.  In 19 games for Hershey, Sjogren has two goals and three assists while posting a -6 rating.

“It’s probably a mistake,”  Caps General Manager George McPhee said on Sjogren.  “He needs to develop here and wasn’t prepared to make the commitment to do so”

McPhee said Sjogren’s upside was only a fourth line center since he is too slow to be on any other lines.

“I know Claude Lemieux [his European agent] told him that he should stick it out, so either Rico Winters [Ritchie Winter his North American agent] or whatever his name is told him to go home or the player didn’t want to be here.”

The Caps will retain his rights.  Listen to everything General Manager George McPhee had to say about Mattias Sjogren following the Caps game tonight right here.

George McPhee Press Conference

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