F Street Faithful
by Matthew Tate on 11/30/11 at 05:13 PM ET
The Dale Hunter era of the Washington Capitals officially began last night with a 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues. Despite getting the lead first, thanks to Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals were unable to give Dale a win on his first night behind the bench.
As expected, Hunter received a warm homecoming from the Verizon Center crowd. His infamous game 7-OT goal against Philadelphia was shown numerous times, and the fans were able to take in a video montage of Hunter’s time in D.C. during a TV timeout. Despite the “butterflies in the tummy,” Dale looked at home behind the bench and seemed to be constantly in the ear of the players.
Although they did not leave victorious, the players looked different then they have the past 2 weeks. Backstrom was noticeably different, as he laid a heavy check on Chris Stewart in the defensive zone. His great work ethic paid off again in the 2nd when the Caps were working down 2 men. After some great boardwork, Backstrom exited the zone, starting a 2-on-1 the other way. While this did not lead to a goal, it did result in a hooking penalty on Shattenkirk and a great rebound chance for Knuble. The 3rd line (Chimera-Laich-Ward) was also working at a high level. They just seemed to be operating on a slightly higher gear then they were last week.
While Ovechkin might have only got 1 shot on net, I thought his play was much improved. He seemed to have rediscovered that 5th gear he used to exhibit on a nightly basis, if only his stickwork would catch up with his skates. On more than one occasion, it appeared he was set to go on a vintage-Ovechkin run, only to let the puck get away. I also am quite a fan of this new move he employed a couple of times, including leading up to the Backstrom tally. Upon gathering the puck on the LW side of the D-zone, he would sell that he was going for a typical LW rush, only to dance around defenders in the neutral zone as he switched flanks. The first time he did this, he drew the attention of every St. Louis player, allowing Backstrom to skate into the slot unobserved. That is something we haven’t seen in a while. When evaluating Ovechkin’s overall performance it is important to note he mixed a good chunk of time in the 2nd period due to a wave of penalties from both the Capitals (Laich/Brouwer) and Blues (Shattenkirk).
Aside from the better work ethic, I loved that Hendricks dropped the gloves with Nichol. At this point the Caps were down a goal, and struggling to breakdown the St. Louis defense. Last week we watched as the Caps got throttled by the Leafs, Rangers, and Sabres. During these poor showings the Capitals seemed content with losing. This was not the case last night. Although the Hendricks fight did not lead to a goal, it did seem to motivate the Caps, as they were buzzing around the offensive zone for the remainder of the game.
While a loss is never as good as a win, this game was a step in the right direction for the Caps. Whether it was Hunter’s small changes or just the coaching change, the players appeared to actually care in this game. We should see even more change in their game tomorrow against the Penguins, with Dale having another practice to tinker with the team.
Other Quick Notes
Following last night’s loss, Bob Woods was relieved of his assistant coaching duties. He has been replaced with former Capitals’ defenceman, Jim Johnson. This should really not be a surprise as Woods was with Bruce in Hershey, and was called-up to Washington in Bruce’s second season. Johnson played for the Capitals briefly in 93-94 and again from 94-96. The team has announced that both Dean Evason and Blaine Forsythe will remain with the team for the rest of the season.
Injury News: At this time no word on Marcus Johansson. He left the game in the 2nd period after he was hit by a puck. He returned in the 3rd and played the rest of the game. While I assume he is fine and will be in against Pittsburgh, there is always a chance it was worse today than it was yesterday. Mike Green is back skating with the team, but there is no timetable on his return. Earlier today, Katie Carrera reported that Jay Beagle suffered a set-back in his rehab following his concussion at the hands of Pittsburgh’s Aaron Asham. He is still working on a return, but I would not expect him any time soon.
Also, tomorrow I will be on XM’s The War Room with Mick Kern. Tune in around 11:30am ET.
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About F Street Faithful
Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate. This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals. The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.
In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at York College of Pennsylvania. I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland.
You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.