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The Return of Roman Hamrlik

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Since the Caps underwent a regime change - and systems change - back in November, the difference has been noticeable throughout the lineup, both at a team and individual level. But it's likely that no one has seen as pronounced a difference in his performance (or at very least the results thereof) than Roman Hamrlik.

After signing a two-year deal over the summer, Hamrlik's start with the Caps was, to put it mildly, sub-par. He lacked good communication with his defensive partners and seemed slow, lost in his own end, invisible in the offensive zone and ineffective on the eternally struggling power play. Through the first twenty-two games he had just one point, a goal in his sixth game for the Caps - a year after putting up thirty-four points with the Canadiens. Over the course of his career he's never finished a season with fewer than twenty points; by the end of November, he was on pace for just fourteen.

Then November 27 happened, and a new face emerged behind the Washington bench. Dale Hunter brought with him a very different system from the one that had been in place from the start of the season - a system in which Hamrlik confessed he was much more comfortable:

"It’s not that much different than what I was playing in Montreal. Now that Huntsy is here we are more desperate and it is more man on man in our defensive zone. He’s looking for good defense creating good offense. From my experience it’s a good thing because everybody works hard in the defensive zone [...]"

It's hard to argue with that considering the results, as over the last few weeks Hamrlik has appeared - on paper and on the ice - to be much closer to the player the Caps thought they were getting back in July.

Obviously his first job is to help keep the puck out of the net, a task at which he was not so successful early on but which lately has become a strong suit. Since the start of the season, Hamrlik's been on for thirty-three goals-against - all but two of those came in his first twenty-two games, and only once in the last two months has he been on the ice for more goals-against than goals-for in a single game (one, against Philadelphia).

Under Bruce Boudreau Hamrlik was a minus-ten, with just six out of twenty-two games on the good side of zero and three games at minus-three. In his last twelve, however, he's a plus-seven and has been a minus-player in just one game. Early in the season he was averaging a penalty every other game, a sign that he was getting beat regularly and often had to resort to taking a penalty to stop the opposition. Since? Just one trip to the penalty box (albeit a costly one).

On the flip side, he's starting to look more like an offensive threat with each passing game. After taking six games to register his first goal and twenty-seven to pick up his first assist, he now has three assists in his last seven games and is jumping into the rush on a more regular basis. He's even shooting more, with twelve shots in his twelve games under Hunter (ten of which have come in the last six games) compared to eighteen in his first twenty-two games of the year.

There's no question that the Roman Hamrlik we see today is a vastly different one than the guy who had people writing him off two months into the season. He's improved offensively and defensively, seems more confident, and is thriving under this new system - and for the first time this season it finally looks like we're seeing the real Hamrlik.