By Reed S. Albers
I remember the morning Bruce Boudreau was fired vividly. I woke up and heard from my Caps bud (who also happens to be my father) that Boudreau had been released. I raced to Kettler Capitals Iceplex for Dale Hunter’s first practice and I eagerly anticipated his first assessment of the mess that was the Washington Capitals. He took questions and gave generic answers. As I drove home, I felt underwhelmed by Day One of the Hunter Era.
The feeling came back when in Hunter’s first postgame press conference he dropped this soundboard worthy line: “Eh, it’s a hockey play.” Months later, “that’s hockey for ya!” came out.
To me, so far, the Hunter Era has been a complete letdown filled with the same poor play fans endured in November with pull-string doll press conferences.
Where was the coach who didn’t take bupkis from anyone? The guy who once slammed Pierre Turgeon into the boards head-first just for having the gall to knock him out of the playoffs?
The guy who came here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, presumably because he didn’t pack any frackin’ gum to begin with?
Well, it seems he’s finally arriving.
In the past week, fans have seen the Hunter we thought was going to take over the Caps emerge.
When the Caps blew a two-goal lead against the Carolina Hurricanes, we saw him get livid during a timeout and chew the boys out.
The players said the message was “calm down!” When’s the last time someone told you to calm down with four letter words and a red face?
After going down 2-1 to the Tampa Bay Lighting in a must-win game at home, Hunter delivered a “rousing” speech that helped lift the team to a dramatic overtime victory.
The room’s take on that one — Huntsy told them to man up.
Then, on Saturday, the Capitals turned in an honest 60 minutes of hockey against the Boston Bruins in an oh-so important 4-3 win.
Nearly three months after taking over the team, it appears Hunter is doing what fans thought he was going to do from the start: rattle the cage and challenge the team.
Maybe he has been all along, but one thing is for sure – it’s getting the player’s attention at the right time.
1. Jay Beagle – two goals, career-high 18:10 TOI v. Boston
Beagle’s work ethic and recent scoring surge has inspired me to speak to you guys in the language of the internet.
2. Brooks Laich – three goals, two game-winning goals
For all the guff Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin have taken this year for their lack of scoring, Brooks Laich has gotten a bit of a free pass. He’s just above his rebuild-era stats (21 points in ‘06, 18 points in ‘07) in 69 games with 34 points.Yet, Laich has been hot lately, scoring three goals in Washington’s last four games, including the game-winning goals both Saturday and Sunday.
3. Alex Ovechkin – one game-winning goal
It seems that when a legend calls him out, Ovi plays better. When Olaf Kolzig did, he scored an overtime winner versus the Islanders. Bobby Holik’s critique turned into an OT winner versus the Lightning. Gretzky, Howe, Dryden and Tretiak, care to add anything?
4. Alex Semin – three points, two penalty minutes
Good Sasha showed up against the Boston Bruins, scoring a goal and earning an assist in the Caps 4-3 win, but the most impressive stat of the past few months for No. 28 is his lack of PIMs. Semin’s has been penalized only six times in 2012. #VerygoodSasha
5. Troy Brouwer – two points
In the past six games Troy Brouwer has broken a scoring slump, emerged as one of the team’s vocal leaders and continued to add a dash of offense at critical moments. It’s the sort of play you need out of a guy like Brouwer in a playoff grind like the Caps are in.
6. Tomas Vokoun – two wins, five goals allowed
His last game was on Feb. 22, a 5-2 Caps loss to the Ottawa Senators and since then starting goalie has been Michal Neuvirth’s job. Now Vokoun’s on a two-game-winning streak and some goalie competition could be healthy during the playoff race.