The St. Louis Blues made a coaching change early in the month
that provided a spark to a struggling team.
The Washington Capitals hope their bold move has the same
Washington fired Bruce Boudreau after four seasons Monday, and
new coach Dale Hunter will make his NHL debut Tuesday night when
the Capitals host the surging Blues.
Boudreau guided Washington to four straight Southeast Division
crowns and became the fastest coach to 200 regular-season victories
in modern NHL history with 4-3 overtime win over Phoenix on Nov.
The Capitals, though, went 17-20 in the postseason during
Boudreau’s tenure and failed to get past the second round.
Washington (12-9-1) has gone 5-9-1 after opening the season with
seven straight victories, and a listless effort in a 5-1 loss to
Buffalo on Saturday seemed to seal Boudreau’s fate.
“This wasn’t a slump. You can ride out slumps,” vice president
and general manager George McPhee said. “This was a case of players
were no longer responding to Bruce. When you see that, as much as
you don’t want to have to make a change, you have to make a
They’ll turn to a Capitals legend to help right the ship.
Hunter, a former captain whose No. 32 is retired by Washington
after playing 11-plus seasons with the team from 1987-99, takes
over after a historic run with the London Knights of the Ontario
Hockey League. He is the fastest coach in league history to 300 and
400 career wins and was in his 11th season with the team prior to
taking the Capitals job.
Hunter coached nine eventual first-round draft picks and three
No. 1 overall selections – Rick Nash (2002), Patrick Kane (2007)
and John Tavares (2009) – during his tenure with London. Current
Capitals defenseman John Carlson, the team’s 2008 first-round pick,
played under Hunter.
McPhee said he’s talked consistently with Hunter over the years
about eventually coaching in Washington, and he’s excited to have a
franchise legend behind the bench.
“No one’s been better at that level,” McPhee said. “That Ontario
Hockey League that’s been around forever, he has the highest
winning percentage of all-time. It’s not a flash in the pan, one or
two or three years. It’s 11 years, (and) he’s turned that franchise
into the best junior franchise going.
“This is the only team he’s ever wanted to coach. I was always
hoping that one day Dale could coach this team, but timing is
everything. The time is right now.”
While McPhee said the change solely didn’t happen because of the
declining play of Alex Ovechkin, he’s likely hoping Hunter can help
turn around the superstar.
”I don’t think this has anything to do with Alex Ovechkin,”
said McPhee, noting that the team’s highest-paid player will remain
its captain. ”I think it’s got everything to do with this team not
Ovechkin has one goal and two assists in his last eight games
combined and was a minus-4 in the loss to Buffalo. He’ll have a
chance to impress his new coach versus the Blues, against whom he
has two goals and six assists in six career games.
St. Louis (13-8-2) has been on a roll since replacing Davis
Payne with veteran coach Ken Hitchcock on Nov. 6, going 7-1-2 since
the change. The Blues have won three straight after Sunday’s 2-1
win over Columbus and outscored opponents 25-12 during Hitchcock’s
The run has been in large part due to the solid play of Brian
Elliott, who made 23 saves Sunday. Elliott improved to 10-1-0 with
an NHL-best 1.31 goals-against average.
Hitchcock, though, named Jaroslav Halak the starter for
Tuesday’s game despite his 3-7-2 mark and 2.57 GAA. Halak has
improved since a slow start, going 2-1-2 with a 1.56 GAA over his
last five starts.
Additionally, he is 3-1-0 with a 1.51 GAA in his last four
versus Washington, with three of them coming in the postseason
while with Montreal and one with St. Louis.
The Capitals have won three of the last four meetings and three
straight in Washington.