The last few days have been a bit of a whirlwind for the Caps, as a listless loss in Buffalo Saturday night prompted a coaching change and the Bruce Boudreau Era gave way to the Dale Hunter Era.
But a shakeup behind the bench isn't going to fix what ails this team - at least not right away. And even with what seemed to be a bit of a boost in all-around energy and effort, the bad habits and brain cramps persisted through Hunter's first game as head coach, putting a damper on what should have been a great homecoming. Dale, you've got your work cut out for you.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Young players develop at different speeds, and tonight the Caps had on display two guys who perfectly represent that fact. On the one hand there's Cody Eakin, who continues to show a lack of ability to win puck battles at this level and hasn't been able to match the skill and timing of his linemates; on the other, Dmitri Orlov, who isn't afraid to make the big hit and can turn a flub at the blue line into a beautiful dangling play back into the zone. Gee, I hear the Bears could use a little extra help up front...
- Of all the players on this team who epitomize the type of player Dale Hunter used to be, Alexander Semin... is not one of them. Still, it was a pretty hard-working effort by Semin tonight in front of his new coach, with nary a minor penalty in sight and a team-high three takeaways. And come on, you didn't really expect him to score on Jaroslav Halak, did you?
- Unless John Carlson suddenly developed amnesia and forgot why he was even on skates let alone chasing after a little rubber thing, there was absolutely no reason for his casual approach to a potential icing call late in the third. To not hustle after that puck with under two minutes to go in a game, down by one, and the chance for an offensive zone draw against a tired opponent... inexcusable. Get 'im, Dale.
- Remember the games when Halak looked like an absolute Vezina-winning stone wall of doom? Yeah... this wasn't one of those games. He looked, dare we say it, a tad shaky tonight, including on the one goal he gave up; it's just lucky for him the Caps couldn't get it together enough to break through Ken Hitchcock's defensive system and make him pay for that shakiness. They're so benevolent, our boys.
- Maybe the Caps needed to move their feet a bit more in order to draw some penalties, but they still probably deserved to be on the power play at least once before the 19:40 mark of the third period.
- One of the minor tweaks Hunter has made in his very brief time at the helm of this team was a slight adjustment to his power play unit, which included moving Nicklas Backstrom to the second unit and using Orlov on the point. It would have been nice to see it in action tonight, wouldn't it?
- Vokoun started tonight's game with some decent saves, and early on it looked like maybe he was starting to come out of his slump. He never looked fully comfortable, though, and his rebound control - particularly on the second goal - was pretty abysmal. Not that his defense did much in the way of helping him out on that play, either, but still.
- Endless pixels have been wasted over the last twenty-four hours or so describing Alex Ovechkin as a lazy coach-killer - so it was nice to see him putting forth a decent effort tonight, even if the puck wasn't bouncing quite right for him. And his assist on Backstrom's goal was both a great pass through a couple of Blues and a smart play all around in which he took two defenders wide rather than trying to beat them himself. So ha, so there. Or something.
- Don't look now, but after getting repeatedly lit up over the past few weeks, the Caps only gave up two goals... also known as their lowest goals-against total in eight games. Baby steps, right?
- Hey, that Mike Knuble character is pretty good, he should get more ice time. Someone should make a note of that.
So the tenure of one head coach pretty much starts where the tenure of his predecessor ended, with a Caps' loss; almost as if the problem was with the players as much as it was with the coach...
There were certainly some good aspects of tonight's game, to be sure, and it was head and shoulders above whatever Saturday night was (...yes, admittedly that's a pretty low bar). One gets the sense that a coach like Dale Hunter isn't going to settle for simply "better than last game" - as well he shouldn't - but it will take time for him to instill his own philosophy and systems on this team, and as evidenced by tonight's performance he hasn't quite had a chance to do that yet.
And don't worry, if it's more energy you're looking for there's a date with some old friends looming on the horizon...