Tag Archives: Dale Hunter

George McPhee, Capitals Taking Time Hiring New Head Coach

It has been exactly one month since Dale Hunter stepped down as Washington Capitals head coach and the team – just one of two with a head coaching vacancy – is still looking for the right person to fill that position.

Thursday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, General Manager George McPhee provided an update on the search.

“It’s going great,” McPhee said. “It really is. It’s been a real enjoyable process. It’s a fun process doing it in the summer. Obviously, if you have to do something midseason, it’s much more difficult. There are fewer people available to talk to, so there’s some real limitations and some time constraints. When you do it in the summer, it becomes a real thoughtful process, real comprehensive. You can talk to a lot of people and come up with a plan on how you’re going to do it. We’ve enjoyed it. There’s some terrific people out there.”

“There’s some real good candidates and we like where we are in the process,” McPhee continued. “We like how it’s gone so far. We’ll just keep working away until we’re comfortable making that final decision.”

That decision, according to McPhee, will likely not be made before the NHL Draft, which begins June 22, but the list has been “narrowed down a little bit.”

McPhee added that the Caps are “not necessarily” looking for a coach with previous NHL experience either as a head coach, associate head coach or assistant coach (all four of McPhee’s coaching hires – Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau and Hunter – did not have NHL head coaching experience upon their respective arrivals in Washington).

“We’re wide open,” McPhee said. “There are really some terrific people. Without getting into names, there are veteran people that have been terrific, there have been young people that have been terrific. We’ll let you know when we get there.”

Reported candidates included Philadelphia Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube, former Carolina Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice, while New Jersey Devils assistant coach Adam Oates, Los Angeles Kings assistant coach John Stevens and Norfolk Admirals head coach Jon Cooper have also gained steam as potential replacements,

Two other possible candidates are already members of the Washington organization: assistant coaches Dean Evason and Jim Johnson. Yet, McPhee said Thursday that he does not believe that either of them will return next season.

While McPhee was characteristically tight-lipped Thursday, he did reveal what kind of style that he would like the Caps to play next season. McPhee was impressed with the compete level that Hunter instilled and wants that to continue along with the defensively-responsible style of play, but wants to speed things up as well.

“I think the whole league is obviously trending towards an uptempo style of play,” McPhee said. “Everyone wants to do that. It’s not necessarily the style of play that’s most important. If you’re the coach, you’ve gotta sell this to the players and have them buy in. That’s what works, if you can get everybody to buy in.”

“We really liked the way that the team competed,” McPhee continued. “That was something that we were trying to get to – to have them compete like that – and they were terrific. They played their guts out. We want to maintain that kind of commitment and play a little more uptempo. It’s the compete we want.”

McPhee has hired four coaches since becoming General Manager, but it has been 10 years since he hired one during the summer (Hanlon, Boudreau and Hunter were all hired midseason). Now that he has that luxury, he plans on taking his time.

“There’s no need to set an artificial deadline to have it done before the draft or have it done by [development] camp,” McPhee said. “The Devils hired a guy in [mid-July] last year and they end up in the finals. I think in terms of housekeeping, some people like to get it done before the draft, but I just don’t think it’s that important. What’s important is hiring the right person and really being able to come to your team with a terrific coach and knowing that you’ve really done a real comprehensive job in the summer talking to these people.”

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Jason Chimera: New York’s Worst Nightmare

As the focus of the “Friday the 13th” series, Jason Voorhees was the stuff of nightmares as he terrorized co-eds and moviegoers for decades.

Much to the New York Rangers’ chagrin, they have their own personal Jason who constantly haunts their dreams. Except he brandishes a hockey stick instead of a machete, dons a normal hockey helmet as opposed to a goalie mask and sprints instead of lumbers.

“We were joking about that in the intermission that this must be his team,” Troy Brouwer said of the Jason in question, Jason Chimera, after the Washington Capitals’ 2-1 win over the Rangers in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series Wednesday.

Chimera’s second-period goal – his seventh-career playoff goal, third of the series and fifth in 11 postseason games against New York dating back to last season – ultimately became the game-winner Wednesday (the fourth of his postseason career, three of which have come against the Rangers) and he scored it in what is now becoming patented fashion: “those backdoor tap-ins” as Brouwer described them. Much like his double-overtime game-winning goal in Game 4 of last season’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Chimera crashed the net and was the benefactor of a fortunate bounce as Nicklas Backstrom conveniently tipped John Carlson’s shot right to Chimera, who only had to tap the puck into the empty net to give Washington a 2-0 lead.

“It’s nice to get those goals,” Chimera said. “It sounds corny, but that’s where you’ve got to go to score goals in the playoffs.”

There might not be a player who looks as genuinely surprised when he scores as Chimera does, but while his heroics have been magnified by the high-pressure situations of the postseason, he has had a penchant for scoring timely goals all season. Fifteen of Chimera’s 24 combined goals between the regular season and postseason have either lifted the Caps into a tie or broken one (not to mention that Chimera only had 28 regular season and postseason goals during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons combined). Also, two of Chimera’s four goals this postseason have given Washington two of its three two-goal leads.

Yet, Chimera did not earn a full-time job in the NHL by scoring goals; it was his intangibles – a hard-working ethos, good size and, most notably, his speed – that allowed him to make an impact. It was Chimera’s second gear that put the Caps on the power play only 73 seconds into the game when he blew by Anton Stralman, who had no choice but to drag Chimera down. Alex Ovechkin scored 15 seconds later.

“He’s been very good right from the start of the year,” head coach Dale Hunter said. “He’s got great speed and a big desire to win. That line, with Chimmer and [Backstrom] and [Alexander Semin] had a big game tonight. Chimmer was working his tail off killing penalties also, so he got more minutes.”

The second line of Chimera, Backstrom and Semin has been productive throughout the postseason; Wednesday, they combined for eight shots (Chimera had a team-high five) and three points. Chimera’s grinding game combined with Backstrom and Semin’s skill has made them a dangerous trio.

“He’s fast out there,” Backstrom said of his linemate. “Looks like he’s just gonna chip the puck and then he’s skating into it. It’s fun to play with him. He has a lot of speed and he’s creating a lot.”

Chimera may be 33 years old and have more hair on his chin than on the top of his head, but he said Wednesday that this season has re-energized him. And like Voorhees, that is just plain scary.

“I’ve been feeling good all year,” he said. “I feel young.”

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Capitals Rue Missed Opportunities In Game 5

The Washington Capitals’ 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series Monday was heartbreaking as well as gut and gonad-kicking, but it did not have to be that way.

Up 2-1 less than five minutes into the third period thanks to a John Carlson power play goal, the Caps had several opportunities to pad their lead and avoid the impending collapse, but failed to convert on several quality scoring chances. Most notably, Nicklas Backstrom hit the crossbar on a breakaway after fooling Henrik Lundqvist with a forehand-backhand deke.

“I should have scored,” Backstrom said Tuesday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “It would have been a different game.”

Yet, at least Backstrom had an opportunity. The Caps had at least two odd-man rushes in the final 10 minutes of regulation while still clinging to a one-goal lead, but could not muster a shot on goal on either.

With just over seven minutes remaining, Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin had a 2-on-1 odd-man rush against Dan Girardi. Semin, for the second time Monday (he elected to pass instead of shoot on a 3-on-2 with Backstrom and Jason Chimera midway through the first period), attempted to pass to Ovechkin, but Girardi got just enough of his stick blade on the puck to break up the chance.

Later in the period, Ovechkin, Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson had a 3-on-1 of their own, but Laich’s pass attempt was broken up by a Marc Staal poke check, once again leaving the Caps without a shot on a prime chance.

“We should’ve executed better,” Johansson said. “Nicky’s is just bad luck. It hits the crossbar. But we had a couple two-on-ones and three-on-ones where we should’ve scored and we didn’t even get a shot on net. That’s not good enough. We have enough skill and good hockey players to do something better with that. That’s something we have to get better at.”

But how? Head coach Dale Hunter offered a simple solution.

“We were passing too much,” he said. “Sometimes, we should think shot and go for rebounds.”

What could have been in Game 5 is now a moot point, but what can and must be changed in a pivotal Game 6 Wednesday is taking advantage of the rare defensive breakdowns in what has been a tight series. The Caps know they need to get more shots on goal in those situations. Otherwise, the only shooting they will be doing is shooting themselves in the foot.

“Three-on-one, you should be able to get a shot at least,” Mike Green said. “[New York’s defense] made great plays, but we’ve got to do better.”

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Capitals Look To Build On Record-Setting Defensive Performance

Perhaps one of the more demoralizing statistics from the Washington Capitals’ 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series Saturday was that they allowed three goals on a paltry 14 shots.

Yet, lost in that same stat is that those 14 shots set a postseason franchise record for fewest shots allowed in a road game, breaking the 27-year-old record of 15 set in April 1985 against the New York Islanders. While the Caps do not want to completely replicate Saturday’s performance, that is one trend that they want to continue.

“They were limited [in their scoring chances],” Joel Ward said Monday after the Caps’ morning skate at Madison Square Garden. “They pride themselves on turnovers and I thought we limited ourselves on not giving up too many chances on the turnovers.”

The Rangers’ three goals Saturday all came from the high slot down due to some defensive breakdowns, but other than that, a look at the shot chart shows that the Caps did a great job in holding most of the Rangers’ shots to areas above the circles.

“We were coming back,” Troy Brouwer said when asked what allowed the Caps to keep the Rangers to the outside. “We were making sure we were in shooting lanes. If we weren’t blocking shots, we were making them shoot wide. We were clearing out rebounds in front. As long as we continue to play solid defensively, I think we’re gonna limit as many shots as we can.”

Several Caps spoke of a “feeling out process” when describing the flow (or lack thereof) Saturday as both teams were trying to figure the other out. Once that finally happened, the Caps realized that the Rangers play a style of game very similar to their own  – one where offense is created from defense –  which helped them strategically.

“These guys, they’ve got some really good skill,” Karl Alzner said. “They like to make nice plays, they cycle. they hold onto the puck. They’re similar to us where they like to wait for their opportunity and then strike.”

In need of a win in Game 2 Monday, the Caps will look to get scoring chances of their own, but will also need to continue to focus on limiting the Rangers’ opportunities and learning from Saturday’s momentary defensive lapses.

“Coaches always want perfect,” head coach Dale Hunter said. “We worked hard. We made some mistakes, but hockey is a game of mistakes. It’s what you do after.”

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Capitals More Than Tough Enough For Bruins

Entering their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Boston Bruins, one of the biggest question marks surrounding the Washington Capitals was whether or not they would be able to handle their second-seeded counterpart’s toughness. The Bruins, a team with a reputation for being big and bad, were supposed to manhandle the physical, yet more reactionary Caps with relative ease.

Yet, after the first two games of the series – particularly Washington’s 2-1 double overtime victory Saturday – it seems that there might be some sort of role reversal taking place.

In perhaps unexpected fashion, the Caps have become the aggressors so far in the series, forcing the action instead of waiting for the Bruins to do so. There were glimpses in Thursday’s 1-0 overtime loss, but more often than not, the Caps were retaliatory instead of incendiary. Saturday, however, the two teams switched places. Washington crashed the net (both goals provided different examples), won critical one-on-one battles along the boards (thanks in large part to a strong forecheck), blocked shots with reckless abandon (only seven Caps did not register a blocked shot Saturday and as a team, they blocked 27 shots to the Bruins’ eight) threw bodies around (the Caps outhit the Bruins 41-36) and was not afraid to provoke Boston, whose frustration level was palpable.

“We got character guys in there,” head coach Dale Hunter said. “From everybody, from the goaltending to [defense] to forwards, they’re battling, playoff hockey. That’s the way you have to play to do well in the playoffs: is to battle. I thought tonight was definitely a playoff-hockey type game.”

Perhaps the most poignant comments came from Bruins head coach Claude Julien, who bemoaned his team’s lack of feistiness after the game.

“They’re putting pucks to the net and they’re going to the net,” he said of the Caps. “Some other guys and other lines are trying to be too cute and there’s nothing to show for it. We need to be a more gritty team, determined to go to the dirty areas and win battles.”

Without the identification, that statement could have easily been used to describe the Caps. Being “too cute” is normally Washington’s modus operandi. So is the “need to be a more gritty team.” The Caps have embraced the role of the junkyard dog, while the Bruins seemingly tucked their collective tails between their legs Saturday. Washington and Boston have traded places in this series and if the former continues its nasty play, the roles of favorites and underdogs could be swapped, too.

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Game 1 Night Of Firsts For Capitals

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals was a night of firsts for many members of the Washington Capitals. Three players – Braden Holtby, Mathieu Perreault and Keith Aucoin – played in their first NHL postseason games, but more importantly, most of the team – specifically the core of the franchise – played in its first Game 1 on the road (this series is the first since the 2003 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in which the Caps opened away from home).

“Yeah, I was thinking about that yesterday,” Brooks Laich said after Friday’s practice at TD Garden. “That was the first time in my career…but we played a solid road game. It doesn’t change how you’re gonna play. We’re going to play no different in Boston than we are at home.”

The Caps, however, made a concerted effort to rile up the Boston Bruins and their fans in an attempt to knock both of them off their respective games. Washington did not back down from Boston’s feistiness and the crowd’s hostility (who repeatedly chanted “CAPS SUCK” at every opportunity), retaliating in different ways throughout the contest.

“We knew that they were gonna wanna come out and establish some sort of dominance right away,” Karl Alzner said. “We knew the fans were gonna be on us. One of the things that you try and do is be the people that everybody wants to hate and does hate and can’t stand. By doing that, you try to hit them, you try to get in their face. You get in your face without saying anything. Same with the fans. The fans didn’t like that we weren’t really talking back and stuff like we might in the regular season. It’s a little bit different, but it’s still the same old game.”

Washington held its own Thursday, but despite standing tall in the face of adversity, it still trails 1-0 in the series. By building on Thursday’s admirable effort, however, the Caps will have a chance to steal home-ice advantage.

“It’s always more pressure,” head coach Dale Hunter said of playing on the road to open a playoff series. “If you worked all year to get home-ice advantage… Boston worked all year to get home-ice advantage and we didn’t. They kept it last night and now it’s another game.”

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Capitals Plan To Counteract Bruins’ Toughness With Combination Of Fight, Flight

The Boston Bruins are a reflection of the city they inhabit. Boston has been known historically as a blue-collar town, one that is more spit than shine. The Bruins are working class heroes, using brute strength and force to make life miserable for their opponents.

The Washington Capitals are perfectly aware of the Bruins’ overall toughness and as they prepare for their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series, they know they have to find a way to counteract it.

“You can’t take penalties, definitely,” head coach Dale Hunter. “In history, come playoff time, there’s not a lot of fighting. It’s more hitting and playing hard. Boston finishes their checks just like we do and it’s gonna be hard-hitting, but that’s part of the game. Fighting is part of hockey, but it doesn’t seem to happen as much in the playoffs.”

“We’ve gotta be disciplined,” he continued. “It’s playoff hockey. You’ve gotta keep your emotions intact. It’s tough for a player.”

The Bruins led the NHL with 65 major penalties – 61 of which were fighting majors – and their 1,101 total penalty minutes were third-highest in the league. Meanwhile, the Caps were one of the league’s more disciplined teams with only 767 penalty minutes, seventh-fewest in the NHL (not to mention only 26 fights). Yet, Boston, which employs three of the league’s toughest players in Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton as selected by their peers as well as a shift-disturber in Brad Marchand, does not have to resort to such tactics to intimidate its opponents. The Bruins throw their collective weight around in the dirty areas to weaken their opponents physically and skirmish after almost every blown whistle in an attempt to sucker the opposition in mentally.

Most of the extracurricular activities take place in front of the crease, where Lucic makes his presence felt more often than not. The Caps, however, may have an advantage in that regard as Braden Holtby, known to be very aggressive when it comes to protecting his crease, will likely start throughout the series.

“It’s the type of game I like to play,” Holtby said. “It gets me more into the game. I have a lot more fun playing a game like that. It feels more like it’s a real competition. I’m not going to go looking for it by any means, but I think that’s what brings out the best of my abilities and a lot of the guys on our team. If someone challenges us, it’s raising your game. We’re hockey players. We’re meant to [rise up] for challenges.”

Elsewhere inside the Washington locker room, it seems that the consensus regarding how to neutralize Boston’s toughness is trying to find a balance between inciting physical play and retaliating against it.

“Let them take penalties,” Jason Chimera said. “We’re gonna play hard between the whistles and we’re gonna try and stay out of that crap after the whistle. It’s one of those things that if they’re gonna take penalties after the whistle, let them take it. We’ll take advantage of the power play. That’s the mindset you’ve gotta have. The series is too tight and too short to have those stupid penalties after the whistle, so we’re gonna try to stay away from that.”

While Chimera might not want to get involved in post-whistle scrums, Karl Alzner feels that the Caps need to prove that two can play that game.

“You’ve gotta be smart,” he said. “You’ve gotta give the first shot and then take the one from them and after that, just skate away. Really, that’s more frustrating than anything, when you go and get a guy and they just skate away from you and you’re the one in the box. It’s not very fun. There are guys on that team you can definitely mess with. You’ve just gotta be smart about it, but you can’t let them go and have an easy series. You’ve gotta be tough on them.”

Either way, Washington knows it is in for a tough test against Boston. The Bruins’ intimidating presence might be in the back of the Caps’ collective minds, but all that they can do is play their game.

“You just play,” Troy Brouwer said. “You could see how Vancouver got caught up in it last year [in the Stanley Cup Final]. It’s just the style of game they play. They try and bring you in. We’ve got some guys that will push back. We’re not going to lay over by any means.”

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