St. Louis Blues: The Model for the Struggling Capitals

On Monday, the Washington Capitals made a very dramatic coaching change firing Bruce Boudreau and naming former Washington Capital player, Dale Hunter, the new head coach.  Much has been made about Boudreau’s firing, especially considering the ‘scuffle’ that Boudreau and Washington Capitals’ star Alex Ovechkin had on the bench a month ago during a game against Anaheim.  Boudreau kept Ovechkin on the bench during the final minutes when Washington was down, something unimaginable in years prior.  It turned out to be the right coaching move – the Capitals won the game – but Ovechkin was none too pleased at the time.  Television cameras captured him uttering some choice words for his former coach.

Hunter in 1989 with the Capitals. (hockeymedia/Flickr)

The reasons behind the coaching change in Washington are many but failures in the playoffs despite success in the regular season is probably the most obvious.  However, some see this coaching change as a direct result of Alex Ovechkin’s extremely slow start to the season; he has just 8 goals in 22 games.  There is also a perception that he and Boudreau have never gotten along, most likely because Boudreau has wanted Ovechkin to play the defensive game.  Whatever the reasons behind Boudreau’s firing and Ovechkin’s poor start, the results for Ovie and the Caps were no different on Tuesday night than they have been since the Capitals’ 7-0-0 start.  The Blues held Ovechkin without a shot in the first two periods and while he did collect an assist on a beautiful feed to Nicklas Backstrom, in general. Ovechkin was the same player he’s been the whole year regardless of who’s calling out line combinations.

The St. Louis Blues, who are 8-1-2 since their own coaching change, controlled the play against Washington and held them to one goal on only 19 shots.  Ken Hitchcock has done his job since taking over in St. Louis, propelling the Blues to 4th place in the Western conference and they are only a point behind the Central Divisionleader, Chicago.  The Blues managed 30 shots against Washington and dominated a team that is always considered amongst the favorites in the East.  There isn’t much new to say about the Blues since Hitchcock took over.  They look like a completely different team.  They are getting production from their big line of Backes, Steen, and Oshie.  They are just playing stiff defense, allowing an average of 24 shots against while managing 30 shots a game.  They’ve outshot all but 3 opponents since Hitchcock was named coach.

Alex Ovechkin Capitals

Capitals hockey star Ovechkin warms up (Icon SMI)

The Capitals should only hope to have the same success after their coaching change that the Blues have had, but from the outset it looks like that may never happen.  The Blues replaced Davis Payne with a proven coach and winner in Ken Hitchcock.  The Capitals in turn, placed Dale Hunter at the helm, and while Hunter has plenty of playing and coaching experience, he has never coached at the NHL level.  While I’m sure there was plenty of motivation and reasoning behind Hunter’s appointment, it is anything but a safe play for the Capitals.  The Blues made a coaching change that they almost certainly knew would pay dividends.  Hitchcock has changed the team’s philosophy and made them winners.  I’m not sure Dale Hunter can do the same for Washington.  During his first few years as the coach of the Capitals, Bruce Boudreau had his team playing a very up-tempo offensive game with great results in the regular season, only to fizzle out in the playoffs.  Boudreau then tried to change the team’s philosophy to make the Capitals more defensive and had similarly good results only to make an early playoff exit once again.  What can Dale Hunter do to change the philosophy?  Go back to nothing but offense and allow Ovechkin to do whatever he pleases?   Doesn’t sound or look good for Hunter.  It’s still early but things are already looking blue in Washington.


  • Angie Lewis

    Interesting proposal. Should the Caps want to achieve what the Blues have, being as successful as they’ve been? With a no-nonsense attitude in the locker room? Definitely. Hunter does bring that to the Capitals — he won’t accept any lackadaisical attitudes, and will demand the most from his stars.

    However, what Bruce ended up doing in Washington lately was try to lock down guys like Ovechkin and make all his offensive players become two-way guys. For one, it doesn’t really work that way and it’s hurt the Capitals in that now there’s nothing they have that scares opponents. Folks need to let it go that their defense scares no one. They need to win games and at the very least, they can fall back on the offense. That’s what adjustments in coaching are for. So if the opposition is shutting the offense down, the coach will adjust. That’s what Boudreau did not do, and what Hunter plans to do.

    Hence, I wouldn’t state that the Blues are the “model” for the Caps. They are at different points in their level of competition and expectations. Also, they have very different styles. The Blues are defensive by design, and in the West, they will be more physical naturally. Like I said, it’s okay to focus on controlled offense.