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A Small Change That Could Yield Big Results

John McDonnell - The Washington Post, via <a href="" target="new">Capitals Insider</a>
John McDonnell - The Washington Post, via Capitals Insider

When the Capitals and assistant coach Jay Leach parted ways back in late May, the Caps didn't name a replacement for nearly a month. As it turns out, the team didn't have need for an extended search, it just had to wait for the Hershey Bears to finish their Calder Cup championship run.

Once the partying in Chocolatetown died down a bit, the Caps promoted Hershey head coach Bob Woods to Bruce Boudreau's bench in Washington, where Boudreau and Woods will reprise the roles they played in Hershey in 2005-06, another championship season for the Bears.

Woods and Boudreau have obvious chemistry and a fantastic working relationship. And the hiring is a clear sign of Boudreau continuing to put his stamp on the organization. But will the change make much of a difference on the ice for a much-maligned defense corps? If you ask some of the players who had a chance to play for both men, they sure think so.

"Jay was a lot more old school," Mike Green told me. "He’s been in the League a long time and the game’s changed a little bit. With Bob here, he’s more aware of the way it’s changed and how guys should play and he encourages us to get into the play, to make plays, to make passes. It’s a lot different.... I know Bob from when we won the Cup in Hershey and he was great for my development."

I told Green that sounded similar to the change from Glen Hanlon to Boudreau in that the new coach is the type to let him play his game, make his mistakes, etc., and the Norris finalist agreed. "Yeah, and I think that it’ll be good for everybody."

Jeff Schultz had similar praise for Woods ability to bring along a young defenseman. "Playing for Woody down in Hershey I learned so much, being my first year of professional hockey. He’s not afraid to show you your mistakes – he’s there to help you improve. It's the same with Jay Leach, just maybe their teaching methods were a little bit different. Jay tried to show you your mistakes using a computer and then he’d just let you go back out there and try to fix them yourself. With Woody, he’s more hands-on. He’ll keep putting that message in your ear until eventually you get it right."

Karl Alzner echoed that sentiment, noting (with typical humility at the outset), "If I’m here, it will help me a lot. I got to go through a little bit with [Woods] and he was very open with me last year telling me what I did well, what I needed to work on, so it’s a good relationship that we have."

Everyone I talked to had nothing but good things to say about Leach as a person, and went out of their way to mention it. But when Tyler Sloan says that Leach has "spent a lot of time in the game, but it’s good to have Woody here," and the ever-diplomatic Alzner refers to the "different perspectives on the game" Leach and Woods have in that "Leachy had coached for a long time, been around the game a lot," it's pretty clear that the change is a welcome one from the players' point of view, or at least the younger defensemen. And given the age and experience of this blueline, that's most of 'em.