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Caps coach preaching defense in DC

Dec 1, 2011, 12:35 PM EDT

Ovi and Hunter Getty Images

When the Washington Capitals brought in Dale Hunter to replace Bruce Boudreau behind the bench, the hope among many fans was that the team would return to its high-flying ways. However, those fans might be disappointed to learn Hunter’s main focus so far has been defense.

The Washington Post explains, “Creating defensive stability and structure is the foundation that Hunter has sought to build his system upon, with the belief that once the Capitals can protect their own zone, success in the offensive zone will follow.”

Hunter’s early priority isn’t much of a surprise considering the Caps have been one of the worst defensive teams this season. But can they thrive under a “pressure-based” system that demands each player on the ice picks up his own man? (I’ll leave it to you to decide which players might have issues with such a system.)

“The onus is on that individual player to win their battle every time,” Karl Alzner said. “If you don’t win your battle and you get beat then we’re going to have an issue and you hope someone’s going to bail you out – your goalie or a weak side forward – but it’s good this way, it keeps everybody extremely honest. You’ve got to make sure you’re doing your job and winning your job or it’s not going to work.”

In other words, no flying the zone early. No getting caught on the wrong side of the puck. High-percentage plays over high-risk.

“I think we’re really bringing our forwards back and trying to always be a stick length away from the guy so we’re not giving them that time to make a play,” John Erskine said. “I think if we get on the same page with that it will bring our goals against down quite a bit.”

The new system might also help the offense, considering so much offense starts from the back end in the NHL. Teams that move as a five-man unit and provide multiple passing options for the puck-carrier can be tough to defend. But first, the players need to buy in. And that might be Hunter’s biggest challenge.

  1. govtminion - Dec 1, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    Dale, have a seat. Let’s chat.

    Have you watched a Caps game over the past few years? Maybe any of the ’09-’10 season? No defense, right? I know, wild idea, and it didn’t work in the playoffs as well as they’d have liked, but look at the goal numbers.

    Now look at a few games from last year and this year. See how it’s not working any better in the playoffs? And the numbers went way down on offense? And defense still sucks?

    This isn’t a defensive hockey team. It wasn’t drafted that way, it wasn’t built that way. You’re going to let in goals, and that’s just the way it is. So don’t make the same mistake Boudreau did- don’t make this team something it’s not. Turn your front-six loose, let them score goals, and just make sure they get one more than the other team at the end of the night. You’ll be happy with the standings, your players will enjoy getting back to the hockey they play best, and your goalies will… ok, your goalies will be miserable, but screw those guys anyway.

    Cut the leash, coach. Let ’em do their thing.

    • paulsdamnblog - Dec 1, 2011 at 2:10 PM

      Great point about the Caps, they’re not built for defense. If Hunter wants to make the same mistake Budreau made, he’s going to have a short tenure in DC. For his sake, I hope the front office gets the idea about what he’s trying to do and acquires the type of talent he needs to achieve that.

      • johninpa - Dec 1, 2011 at 5:44 PM

        So, you think they should continue to play the game they have for the last few years, no changes? Sure, that’s been real successful hasn’t it? You might get away with that against lesser teams, but not the good ones, and definitely in the playoffs. The good teams play defense, lots of pressure, out of the defensive zone quickly and back on offense. For all the talent the Caps have, they should be winning. If Ovechkin truly wants to be a star in the NHL, he’ll learn the system. Otherwise he just going to be the guy with the big shot and no Cup.

  2. danphipps01 - Dec 1, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    Welp. This’ll be short, sweet and hilarious. Ovi and Semin, responsible for defensive play. That’s not a strategy, it’s a punchline.

  3. hague507 - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    This is going to be a long boring season. : (

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