Blues ruin Dale Hunter's debut, beat Capitals 2-1
Tuesday’s game featured a coach making his NHL coaching debut (Dale Hunter) facing off against a coach who has done a great job replacing an incumbent coach, taking his team on a 8-1-2 run since he’s been hired (Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues). Hopefully Hunter took a few notes because the Blues proved just how much they have improved since Hitchcock took over. The Blues defense was top-notch, as they suffocated the Capitals and prevented them from getting many scoring opportunities.
The Capitals offense struggled for the first two periods, mustering just eleven shots in the first two periods combined. Nicklas Backstrom scored in the first period off a beautiful pass from Ovechkin after a great clear from Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun got credit for the assist, his first assist of the season. I expected the offense to struggle a bit though, as Dale Hunter has a completely different approach to offense than Bruce Boudreau. Hunter appears to be installing an offense that is more physical than Bruce’s. One thing that impressed me about the offense is that the Capitals almost out hit the Blues, who are definitely one of the more physical teams in the league. An overhaul of an offensive system can take a little while to take effect, so I’m not worried at all.
The big story of the night was the Capitals defense. If you only look at shots on goal, you might think the Capitals defense did not do a good job. However, shots on goal does not necessarily equal bad defense. I think they did a very good job of containing the Blues offense and not giving them anything in the middle or in the slots. What brought about this change? A simple switch in defensive philosophies. Boudreau’s defensive system relied on zone play, Hunter is installing a defensive system that relies heavily on man-to-man. I liked the change, and as Hunter teaches this team the finer points of his defensive system, I’m confident that they will keep the team in almost every game. Tomas Vokoun says he likes this defensive system because it gives him a chance to be able to see everything that’s happening. I agree with him because he seemed very comfortable in the net. He did make one crucial error: he went out of the crease to get a puck behind the net that he probably shouldn’t have gone out to get. This led to the second goal. The Capitals penalty kill continues to be amazing, killing all four penalties tonight.
The Caps showed a lot of heart, which is a lot more than I can say of this team lately under Boudreau. Caps fans need to be patient, as the process of switching offensive and defensive systems is going to take a bit to start reaping benefits. The Capitals play their arch-rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night. I do not expect them to beat the Penguins, but I expect them to stay in it.