Archive for November 2007

Patriot-News Says it’s Laing

November 29, 2007

According to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, the Caps will recall left wing Quintin Laing from Hershey of the AHL to join the parent club this weekend on its two-game road trip to Carolina and Florida.

Laing, a 28-year-old native of Harris, Saskatchewan, is a gritty checking forward who is in his second season with the Bears. His previous NHL experience consists of three games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2003-04, a stint during which he registered one assist.

Injury Update

November 29, 2007

Just got some updated injury info from Nate Ewell. Alexander Semin is healthy. Chris Clark is day-to-day with a groin injury, and Boyd Gordon is week-to-week with an unspecified injury. We should expect some player movement from Hershey prior to Friday’s game with the Hurricanes in Raleigh.

Hope For Eminger

November 27, 2007

Caps defenseman Steve Eminger played in just one of the team’s first 21 games this season. Since Bruce Boudreau took over as Washington’s interim coach last week, Eminger has played in one of three games. Even though he will not be in the lineup for Wednesday’s game with Florida, Eminger finally sees a glimmer of hope for himself. Boudreau has said that he wants all 23 players to play, and wants all 23 to feel like they’re part of the team. After spending much of the first quarter of the season in limbo, that’s music to Eminger’s ears. Playing once or twice a week is far better than playing once a month.

“It’s a chance,” says Eminger, “and I guess that’s what I didn’t get in the first two months was a chance. That’s all that we could ask for. We have eight defense[men] here and everyone has to play. Everyone can contribute. If that’s the role that we’re going to be put into, I don’t think guys are going to complain. Obviously you want to be there every night and you want to be playing every night, but we have healthy bodies that are going to contribute so if that’s going to be the game plan, you’ve just got to be ready and be ready to step in when it’s your chance.”

Eminger played in Monday night’s 3-1 loss to the Sabres. It was just his second game this season and his first in the team’s last nine games. We wondered whether it was harder for him physically or mentally.

“Both,” says the 24-year-old rearguard. “I was talking to people, talking to my dad after the game, and I said, ‘Playing, you don’t know what to expect.’ It might be kind of silly listening to this, but you almost forget what a bodycheck feels like, you almost forget what a one-on-one is going to be like, what a two-on-one is going to be like. You can do it in a practice, but a game is completely different. You get what is referred to as tunnel vision where you just see straight ahead of you and that’s it. I’m not seeing guys on my side and that’s going to come by playing.

“When you’ve played two games in two months, I don’t care if you’re Scott Niedermayer coming back. I think you’re still going to need that time to get adjusted. Hopefully the coaches can bear with me. I know myself that we’re closing in on 30 games and you don’t have that time to have those mistakes and make those mistakes. But I might need some time to get into that groove. Already in practice today after [playing in] this game I felt better already.”

The first of Washington’s three first-round draft choices (12th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Eminger made the Caps in the fall of 2002 as an 18-year-old kid on what was then a pretty good Capitals team. After 17 games with the parent club, the Caps excused Eminger to play in the World Junior Championships. He was then returned to his junior club, the Kitchener Rangers. Eminger helped lead Kitchener to a Memorial Cup championship, often playing 30-35 minutes a night. The book on him was that he would become a solid and steady NHL blueliner for a decade or so.

Eminger split the 2003-04 season between Washington and the club’s AHL Portland affiliate. After a strong start with the Caps in 2005-06, he leveled off and then suffered a bad ankle injury in mid-January. Just as he was hitting his stride again, the season ended. Last season, he was scratched several times, including six consecutive games in February. Washington won only one of those games, and was 2-9-3 in the 14 games in which Eminger did not play last season, regardless of the reason.

This fall, a training camp ankle injury limited him in the preseason and he started the regular season on injured reserve. The Caps started the season with three straight wins, but even after the losses began piling up, Eminger remained out of the lineup. He finally made his 2007-08 debut in Atlanta on Nov. 6, but was right back in the press box then next night and every game since since until Monday.

Hindsight is 20/20 and there will always be a debate about whether the Caps might have done more or might have done things differently with Eminger. You don’t see many 24-year-old former first-rounders being buried by teams that drafted them, especially when that team is at the bottom of the league standings. It can’t be good for a player’s confidence.

“I don’t think it’s a positive thing on your confidence,” he admits, “not playing and feeling that you’re not wanted. It’s a different feeling. It’s a frustrating feeling, because the only thing that you want to do is play and play for the team. The way that I always look at things and look at life is things work out for a reason. You still try to figure out what’s going to evolve around this, why did this happen, what’s going to happen with your career. But like I said, things always happen for a reason and hopefully something positive turns out out of this.

“I have confidence in myself. I know what I can do. When I get in that groove, when I get a shot, when I play games, when I get back into it, I know what I can do. It’s just a matter of — and it seems like I am — getting that shot. With Bruce here, he told us we were all going to play and I guess that’s the shot I need.”

Eminger skated just under 10 minutes against Buffalo. He appeared to be skating well, and he picked up an assist on Washington’s only goal. He was a minus-2 on the night, but about the worst thing you could say about is performance is that he was trying too hard to make an impression. It’s understandable.

“A couple of unlucky plays there,” he reflects. “I guess you can hold back on your first game or you can get involved. I was playing on a lot of adrenaline, I was really excited and I wanted to get after it and get involved.”

He would have been just minus-1, but he parked himself on the bench just as Alex Ovechkin scored. Although he assisted on the goal, Eminger did not get a plus-1 on the play.

“Yeah, I just stepped off,” he says. “[Defense partner John] Erskine and myself just stepped off as he scored.”

Eminger knows he can play better, and he knows the team can play better. Right now, he is happy to be feeling like he is part of the team again and looking forward to what the rest of the season holds.

“[I] definitely feel rejuvenated,” says Eminger. “It does feel like the start of the season to me in a way, because obviously I haven’t really started the season. This feels like a start to me, that’s the way I am looking at it. I woke up today and I felt good, even though I wasn’t in awe of my game [Monday]. But I felt good. I felt back with the team, and back with that hopefully winning attitude. I haven’t won this year, and I want to win.

“When we were losing, I felt bad. I felt bad for the guys. But it didn’t feel like I was really losing. When we won, it didn’t feel like I was winning. It wasn’t like the rotation that we’re going to be in now. I’m not in tomorrow, but when we lose or win, I am still going to feel it. I haven’t had that feeling this year. Getting that feeling, anyone who has been part of a team knows what I am talking about.”

Hartnell Gets Two

November 27, 2007

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but another Flyer has been suspended for a questionable hit. You can find the Scott Hartnell hit on Boston’s Andrew Alberts on YouTube, but I was more interested in Hartnell’s comments, as quoted by The Philadelphia Enquirer‘s Tim Panaccio:

“Lupul chipped the puck to that D-man and he went down low to block the puck,” Hartnell said. “I thought it was going to get by him. I let up a bit and finished my check. I think he put himself in a vulnerable position. I definitely didn’t intend to injure him.

“It wasn’t deliberate; I didn’t try to hurt him. I’m not that kind of player. If you look at the all games this year and past years, I’m a guy who finishes his check. He was close to boards. It wasn’t like he was two or three feet from the boards. . . . I let up. It’s unfortunate he stayed down.”

When I read that, I was reminded of Hartnell’s quote after he flattened Washington’s Boyd Gordon in a Friday afternoon game at Wachovia Center. Here’s what he had to say after he was asked if he wanted to make a big hit to get things going:

“Oh absolutely. There was nothing going on in the first 35 minutes and [Joffrey] Lupul said to me on the bench, ‘Let’s go get some big hits.’ The guy [Gordon] had his head down. It wasn’t a late hit, [I] just tried to finish my check really hard.”

As we’re finding out, that’s how they roll. Hartnell is the fourth Flyer to incur a league suspension for on-ice behavior since September.

Pregame Q&A with BB

November 26, 2007

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau held court for a few minutes before tonight’s game, and here’s what was said. And I apologize … I totally spaced out and forgot to ask how Alexander Semin would fit into the team’s power play. I guess we’ll find out in an hour or so.

For the first couple of games when a new coach comes in, guys generally play the best they can and try to impress you and earn some ice time. What happens when that novelty wears off for them?

“Well, then there’s somebody else who will hopefully want to do the same thing. and hopefully it doesn’t wear off. Because if they’re going to play like that and continue to have success they’ll say, ‘You know what? I like winning. This is fun.’ The bottom line is winning is the most fun thing you can do in sports. I hope it’s something that doesn’t wear off at all.”

More specifially, how do you keep it going?

“Keep pushing them, I believe anyway. You just keep pushing them and you don’t give them a chance to let up. Every game is a different goal. Every practice there is a different reason to do it well. As long as I don’t become mundane and the message doesn’t turn into, ‘Oh here we go again, I’ve heard that one before,’ I think they’ll get excited because they’re a great group of men.”

Steve Eminger is going to be in the lineup tonight. He doesn’t really have confidence, he doesn’t have no confidence. He hasn’t played, and he probably isn’t in real game shape; he has only played one game. What do you expect from him, and will it take a few games before you can really evaluate him?

“Quite frankly, it’s his job to be in shape and it’s his job to be ready. I expect him to play just as good as every other defenseman on the team. Because if we don’t [expect that] and we say, ‘Oh he’s got to take a few games,’ and this and that, then it’s an excuse. And if you’re a guy that doesn’t accept excuses, then that’s it. He’s got to play good. We’re going to use eight [defensemen]. Eight defensemen over a long season. And if he wants to get more ice time and he goes out there and plays good, he’ll continue to play.”

Bruce, do you think that using eight [defensemen] and also moving some forwards in and out is going to keep them motivated? Is that part of your master plan?

“I think the plan everywhere is that if you want to have a 23-man team, then you’ve got to play 23 guys. I’ve never seen guys that have been sat out for long periods of time [who feel like they're part of the team]. As a hockey player, as much as you want to be part of it, you don’t feel part of it. We want everyone to feel part of it and we want everybody to feel part of success. If they can feel part of success, then tehy’ll pull for everybody. There are guys out of the lineup tonight that I thought played pretty well the last game and the last two games. But they have to understand that we’ll move around some people. And the other guy is going to come in and hopefully he is not going to want to let down the team or the guy [whose spot he is taking].”

The Matt Pettinger decision, is that performance based?

“We’ve got 13 forwards. I thought Petty played great in Philadelphia. Just because you don’t score, sometimes you have four chances. He had four good shots on net, he had a great chance with a minute and a half to go and he competed. [Saturday] he was looking a little down. I think sometimes when a guy is used to having more success than he is having, it’s not bad to watch a game, to see the game from above and watch video on himself. Sometimes you can spot something. But I anticipate him being back in the lineup soon.”

There are a lot of coaches who wouldn’t change anything when they’ve won a game or two games. Was there a certain point in your career when you came by that philosophy? Because I think it’s rare. I think most coaches, if they win, they don’t make the change.

“I don’t know. Sometimes when you’re coaching in the American League, it’s more being fair. And when you’re a player who was called up an awful lot and sat in the stands an awful lot, I know exactly what the players went through and it wasn’t conducive to winning. Because when you sit in the stands for an awful lot, whether you like it or not, human nature is, ‘I hope we don’t do well.’ And I want everybody to pull for everybody. I want when we come down [after the game] today if we’re lucky enough to win the game, that everybody is all pumped up, not just the 20 who played.”

28 is a Scratch

November 23, 2007

Alexander Semin did not make the trip and will not be in the lineup for Washington here in Philadelphia this afternoon. The Hershey contingent of general manager Doug Yingst, interim coach Bob Woods and radio voice John Walton arrived a few minutes ago. Yingst will join Woods behind the bench and help out as an assistant for the next few games. Hershey takes on the Phantoms here tonight after the Caps/Flyers game.

It Starts With One

November 23, 2007

For those of us associated with the Washington Capitals, the last few days have been very long and trying days. Thursday especially was like that, and a few of us were called away from family and friends for several hours on a holiday because a guy that we liked a lot lost his job. And seeing what Glen Hanlon endured up close the last few days wasn’t easy for any of us either, but especially not for him or his players, staff, management and ownership.

I’m back home now at the end of a great Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends. It’s the end of a very long day with two more very long days looming directly ahead, and with the Caps’ next game less than 12 hours away. I’ve had some to digest all these goings on, and to listen again to the comments of George McPhee, Bruce Boudreau and a handful of Caps players. I should be sleeping but I’m not, so here are a few of the things and comments from today that are kicking around in my head about now. This post will seem disjointed, because that’s how my thoughts are.

I’ve been around here long enough that I date back to Jim Schoenfeld’s days as the team’s head coach. I can honestly say that this was the only coaching change I’ve been through were the players were sincerely pained and anguished over the loss of their leader. The players feel like they let Glen down. That’s understandable, but they have to move forward and they will.

“I’m disappointed,” said team captain Chris Clark. “I take a lot of the responsibility on myself as one of the older guys on the team not coming through for a great guy like Glennie is. I’m taking this really hard. Bruce is going to do a great job; I know it. And we’re going to respond. But it’s tough losing someone like that. [He was] part of our team and part of my life the last couple of years.”

Because of Hershey’s geographical proximity to my Baltimore home, I’ve also had the good fortune to get to know Bruce Boudreau pretty well over the last two and a half years. He’s a straight-shooting guy who has quite literally seen and coached and played in thousands and thousands of hockey games. I’ve watched somewhere upwards of 60 Boudreau-coached games over the last few years dating back to his days behind the Manchester bench, and he’s a very cagey coach who has a great feel for the game as it is unfolding.

Bruce is also a great guy with a million terrific stories, because he has played with and/or against and coached or coached against damn near everyone who ever laced them up professionally. The game of hockey is teeming with great people, as I am reminded every time I walk into an arena anywhere on the globe and am greeted by a familiar face. Bruce ranks right up there near the top, and don’t take it from me. Take it from two guys who know him much better, Tim Leone and John Walton.

As difficult as it was to have Glen leave, I am happy that Bruce is finally getting a chance that is overdue in my opinion.

Of course, the burning question (okay, one of many) on the minds of you all out there is: Can the guys in the room turn things around and salvage the season?

“We have to win that first game first and that’s all we’re going to concentrate on right now,” says Clark, “maybe just that first period against Philly.”

“We think we have the right people in the room,” says McPhee, “and we’d like to start winning games and get on a roll. But it has to start with a game [Friday]. We just didn’t have the feeling that we were going to have any chance to win the game [Friday] based on the way the last two games went. So we had to make the change. Hopefully it will be enough to inspire us to win [Friday].”

If you listen to our frequent podcasts on washingtoncaps.com, you know that I’ve been talking myself hoarse about the Capitals needing to put together a sustained winning streak to prove that they’re a viable playoff contender for weeks now. At this point, being a viable playoff contender doesn’t even enter into the equation any longer. They’ve got to put together a streak not unlike the one the Atlanta Thrashers are currently enjoying, merely to get back to break-even level. It’s been more than six years (Mar. 3-11, 2001) since the Caps have won as many as five straight, which is why I brought it up in the first place, back on Nov. 1. The Caps were 5-6 then.

The streak has to start with one, and my sense is that most of you don’t believe this team is capable of such a streak. I understand that thinking. It’s been a while since you’ve had that feeling of going to the rink night after night, believing the Caps would win each night regardless of the opposition. I remember that feeling, but I also remember the last time I had it. It was only about 18 months ago, as I was reminded on Thursday afternoon. More on that in a bit.

I also remembered a day almost four years ago when I was summoned to a similar gathering of press and cameras on the day that Hanlon was named to replace Bruce Cassidy as Caps coach. I remember being eager to speak to Matt Pettinger that day, because he had played for Hanlon in Portland and had good firsthand knowledge of him as a head coach.

Thursday, I sought out Brooks Laich for largely the same reasons. He didn’t let me down.

“I think Bouds is awesome,” says Laich. “He’s very passionate about hockey first and foremost, always watching hockey and learning. I think he’ll be great for us. He is an up-tempo guy; he wants us to move our feet. We’ve got a young group of guys in here and we can skate. He wants us to move our feet and move the puck quick, think on your feet and make hockey reads.

“First and foremost, he demands a lot of hard work, but also he’s a player’s coach and he wants guys to have fun. We might not be in the best situation right now, but we have a great opportunity here. We have a great bunch of guys here, we still believe in ourselves and we believe in Bouds. There might be a couple subtle changes but other than that we’ll just keep going forward and hopefully start his tenure off here with a win [Friday].”

“He’s very prepared. Even though he’s in Hershey, I still talk to him. He watches our games, he likes to follow players he has coached before and he likes to watch our team. I think that will be a great asset for him coming in here. Obviously what he has done in the AHL speaks for itself. His first two years in Hershey he wins a Cup and the next year takes them back to the finals. A lot of the players in here are very familiar with him, so I think it will be an easy transition for us.

“Our record doesn’t indicate the talent that we have in this room. For some reason we haven’t been able to put it together. Bouds comes in here, he brings a different attitude and maybe it’s a wakeup call for us. Glennie did a great job, and he deserved better than what we gave him, for sure. We have to realize that it’s a tough day today but also it’s a day of moving forward and Bouds is our guy.

“I think we had a great practice today and it starts tomorrow. We’ll see how we play tomorrow. Hopefully guys will have an extra jump in their step and respond to the change that has been made. One win could turn to two and then to three. Guys start getting their confidence back and it can really snowball. You look at Bouds’ track record and his teams do that. They get on rolls and they’re really tough to beat. The reference is when we got on a 10-game winning streak in the playoffs. You show up to the rink and you know what’s going to happen. Everyone has a jump in their step and they’re having fun. The main thing we have is trust in each other. It’s not going to be an easy thing to win eight games out of 10 or whatever, but if you look around here we’ve got a lot of hard-working guys, great leadership and I think we’re capable of it.”

That 10-game winning streak Laich referred to was unreal. Different heroes every night. Guys picking each other up. They’d find a way to win every night, and there was a swagger to that team. It was fun. You went to the rink, and you knew they’d win, you didn’t know how, but you couldn’t wait to watch. Norfolk, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and then two games against Portland. Worthy foes all, and they all fell.

If he can bring that feeling back to the District, he really is Bruce Almighty.

From the Archives

November 22, 2007

(I wrote this piece the day Bruce Boudreau was hired to coach the Hershey Bears back in July, 2005. Thought it might be worth dusting off and looking at again in light of recent events. MV)

A month and a day before he was named head coach of the Hershey Bears, Bruce Boudreau made the 12-hour drive from Windsor, Ontario to Manchester, N.H. He was to meet with Kevin Gilmore, assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Kings and general manager of the Kings’ top AHL farm team in Manchester, where Boudreau had coached the previous four seasons. Boudreau expected to sign a contract extension and talk about the just-completed season and the one ahead. In one sentence, Gilmore told Boudreau his extension was ready. In the next sentence, he told him there needed to be a coaching change.

Just like that, Boudreau – who led the Monarchs to a 51-win season in 2004-05 and averaged 40 wins a year over his last six campaigns as an AHL head coach – was out of a job. He is back on his feet now, but admits to a degree of worry.

“Well you are always worried about it,” he admits. “When something negative happens you always doubt yourself. I was really happy that I started getting a couple of calls. I really wanted to be part of the Hershey group. That was my first [preference]. When you sit there and make your wish list, your wish list never comes true. But in this case it did. I was very fortunate and I had a lot of good people say nice things about me. Here I am and I couldn’t be happier.”

The Bears’ and Capitals’ brass couldn’t be happier, either.

“We were very impressed with his hockey knowledge in the interview,” says Capitals general manager George McPhee. “This coach really knows the game and he knows this league as well as anyone can. He is an admitted stats freak and he has won a lot of games at this level. He was a very coveted coach among the teams who were trying to fill that position right now and we were told last night by another [AHL] club [with a head coaching opening] that he was their No. 1 choice. We feel lucky to have him and believe that being able to come to the Hershey Bears and this market was the tipping.”

Boudreau is a hockey lifer who has had an interesting career as a player and coach all over North America.

Born and raised in Toronto, Boudreau played junior hockey for the Toronto Marlboros (twice winning the Memorial Cup) and then realized every local boy’s dream when he donned the blue and white and skated for the Maple Leafs. But before that, he played for the fabled Johnstown Jets, and was a teammate of the notorious Carlson brothers at Johnstown and with the WHA’s Minnesota Fighting Saints. This connection helped earn him a bit part in the greatest hockey movie of all time, Slapshot. Boudreau appears in the first hockey scene of the film, and can be seen wearing No. 7 for the visiting Presidents.

“It was fun,” he recalls, when asked about the movie. “The little part that I played I never would have thought that people would be talking about that 30 years later, and here we are. Everywhere I go it seems like Slapshot is brought up and I was in it for about three seconds. It’s quite a cult movie and a lot of people who don’t even know hockey [associate] Slapshot with the game of hockey.”

After the Fighting Saints folded late in the 1975-76 season, Boudreau signed with Toronto and was assigned to the Dallas Black Hawks of the old Central Hockey League. Among other members of that Dallas club were former Washington coach Ron Wilson and former Caps assistant Randy Carlyle. Boudreau made his NHL debut with the Leafs later in the 1976-77 season.

Although Boudreau spent most of his playing career shuttling between the minors and the NHL – he sported six different uniform numbers in just 134 games with Toronto – he did record respectable totals of 28 goals and 70 points in 141 NHL games.

Boudreau ended his NHL career with the 1985-86 Chicago Blackhawks, a team whose roster was littered with future NHL coaches and general managers. Among them was defenseman and former Capitals coach Bruce Cassidy.

While playing in the AHL, Boudreau led his team in scoring five times, a league record. He also tied a league record by recording three 100-point seasons.

Boudreau served as a player/assistant coach of the AHL’s St. Catharine’s Saints in 1982-83 and ’83-84. It whetted his taste for what would become his second career.

“If you got to know me, this is all I ever wanted to do,” he says. “To me it was a natural progression. When I was a player/assistant coach in St. Catharines it was 1980 and I was only 25. I ended up still playing for another 13 years. So it was something I wanted to do and I wanted to keep at it. It is something I don’t ever want to end. Whatever the situation, I want to be involved in hockey.”

His next foray into coaching came when he served as a player/assistant coach of the fabled 1990-91 Fort Wayne Komets of the now-defunct International Hockey League. The Komets were laden with scorers and tough guys. The team boasted eight 20-goal scorers and five of them (including Boudreau, who had 40) reached 30. Eight players totaled more than 100 PIM (Boudreau had 111) and six of them surpassed the 200-PIM mark. Former Capital Kevin “Killer” Kaminski led the Komets with 455 PIM in just 56 games.

The Komets won 43 games to place third in the IHL’s East Division and then went on a long and improbable playoff run that ended in the finals when they were finally vanquished by the juggernaut Peoria Rivermen, winners of 58 regular season games. Boudreau led the team with 11 goals and 18 points in 19 playoff contests.

“We had a tremendous team that year and they were all rejects,” Boudreau remembers. “We all had really good offensive years and we had Stephane Beauregard [in goal]. It was quite a team and it took a team that had 17 players play in the NHL over the next two years to beat us. As a player, it was probably as much fun as I’ve ever had.”

After one more season strictly as a player with the Komets, Boudreau went into coaching full-time when he took over as head coach of the Muskegon Fury of the Colonial Hockey League in 1992-93. A year later, he was back with the Komets as head coach and he directed the team all the way to the Turner Cup finals. Boudreau won the Commissioner’s Trophy as IHL Coach of the Year that season.

After two seasons in Fort Wayne, Boudreau spent a season as an assistant with the IHL’s San Francisco Spiders. Among the defenseman on the Spiders’ roster that season was one Rod Langway, then winding down his own pro career in the minors.

Boudreau spent the next three seasons as the head coach of the Mississippi Sea Wolves, winning the Kelly Cup Championship in 1998-99, his final season on the job. During his stay in Mississippi, he also served as the team’s vice president and director of hockey operations.

In July 1999, the Los Angeles Kings hired Boudreau to take over as head coach of their AHL farm team, the Lowell Lock Monsters. Boudreau’s Lowell team won 33 games in his first season and increased its point total in each of his next five seasons on the job. The Kings moved their AHL team from Lowell to Manchester at the beginning of the 2001-02 season.

Boudreau’s 2004-05 Manchester Monarchs established a club record with 51 wins, but failed to reach the second round of the playoffs for a fifth straight season. His team’s postseason woes was cited as the reason for his dismissal from the Manchester job last month, Boudreau’s teams were 169-100-33-18 during his four seasons in Manchester; he has a 237-171-45-27 record in his six seasons as an AHL bench boss.

Having coached the Monarchs, Boudreau has seen a lot of Washington’s current bunch of young prospects over the last two years. Boudreau’s Monarchs won nine of the 10 games between Manchester and Washington’s Portland affiliate in 2004-05.

“That came out in the interview,” declares McPhee. “He knows our players well. He believes he can accomplish a lot with this group and these individuals. That was one of the many points that sold us on him.”

Boudreau likes what he sees in the Capitals’ cupboard.

“They were so good defensively that you were not going to wipe them out,” he says of recent vintage Caps farm clubs. “In the end, I think our team had a little more offensive jump than they did. They played us tough and I hated playing them every game whether Glen Hanlon coached them three and four years ago or Tim Army. I hated playing against them because you knew you were in for a battle. I really believe they have some very skilled players and I’m looking forward to working with them.”

Capitals center Jared Aulin played his first professional season under Boudreau in Manchester in 2002-03.

“He is a guy who likes the creative style but he only wants you to play that way if you are disciplined in your defensive zone,” says Aulin. “He usually likes to spend the first half of the season working on systems and continuing the conditioning side of things. The second half is more just keeping you out there on the ice; you should know the systems by then. Just work hard, be creative and have fun.”

In the AHL, player development is supposed to be the top priority, but that hasn’t stopped coaches from losing their jobs after disappointing playoff performances. The bottom line is supposed to be making players better and getting them ready to play in the NHL. So has Boudreau succeeded at this aspect of the job?

“I think so,” says Aulin without hesitation. “Look at the numbers [Mike] Cammalleri put up [46 goals, 109 points] and other guys in the organization last year, too. I think they had five guys who were in the top 10 in scoring and on the defensive side of things they had a few guys who were top plus/minus players.

“It just goes to show that he is a guy who has trust in his players. As long as he finds them accountable, he is going to be accountable for what he is doing as well. I think that’s what he does best; get the best out of the players. They didn’t do well in the playoffs and they didn’t do well in the playoffs when I was there. Every year is a learning year. In the AHL, you never know what can happen. Not always the best team is going to make a run for it. Hartford was a tough team to play against this year and they didn’t make it past the second round, either. It’s a tough game. It’s a league where everybody competes and sometimes you don’t get the bounces and sometimes it just happens to work for you.”

Boudreau’s background as both a player and a coach tends toward offense, and that was another point that helped convince McPhee.

“He had some real interesting insights on that part of the game. Things like, ‘Listen, if you want to come down and you’re inside the zone and at the top of the circles and try something between your legs, then go ahead. But if you’re trying to do it at the blueline where people get caught in transitions, that’s not going to happen.’

“He has a great understanding of the game. He has been in the game a long time. When we completed his interview on Sunday night, it was unanimous amongst the four-man committee that was interviewing him that he was the guy who has the ability to lead this team.”

As for Boudreau’s own influences as a coach, he names two. One is a legend from his early days as a player and the other is much more recent.

“I think Roger Neilson was my biggest influence and I still do so much of his stuff,” says Boudreau. “He was just so smart. I think if there was anything I had to do that was intelligent it was being smart enough to know that Roger didn’t like me as a player. But I really liked everything he did. I’m really into statistics and Roger was really into statistics, too. He was so organized and motivated. When I went to start my own hockey school I went down and watched him and had a meeting with him at his hockey school and he helped me get it going. It is still going for 23 years now. He was a great hockey guy.

“The other guy is Andy Murray for the last six years with the Los Angeles Kings. Andy Murray to me is a mentor and an intelligent man. If I could emulate what he does and his work ethic and everything, I would be a better man for it.”

Talking to Boudreau for just a few minutes, you are left with the sense that he is a guy who truly lives and breathes the game. It should be fairly easy for him to pass along that passion to his players. He enjoys coaching as much as they enjoy playing.

“Just the thrill of being out there behind the bench or on the bench when you’re a hockey guy is pretty tremendous,” he says.

Time for a Change

November 22, 2007

Glen Hanlon has been a class act since long before he got to Washington, so it’s no surprise that his response to being relieved of his coaching duties today was also classy.

“I want to thank George McPhee and the entire Washington Capitals organization for the opportunity to spend what have been the best years of my hockey life in Washington and Portland,” he said in a statement. “Most importantly right now I don’t want to take away from Bruce and the team and what they are doing. I will be rooting for them to win tomorrow in Philadelphia and down the road.”

Interim Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau ran his first practice here at K-Plex this morning, and then he and his players boarded a bus to Philadelphia where the Caps will face the Flyers on Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. Besides the obvious change behind the bench, a few other tweaks to the lines and the lineup were noted.

Alex Ovechkin, whose 14 goals are more than any other three players on the team combined, skated on a familiar line with Viktor Kozlov and Chris Clark. Michael Nylander started the session with Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin, but Semin departed the ice surface some 20-30 minutes into practice and did not return. Brooks Laich then donned a grey sweater and replaced Semin on that line.

I asked Caps GM George McPhee about Semin after practice, and he told me it was related to the ankle problem again. Whether Semin is in the lineup for tomorrow’s game in Philly remains to be seen.

Dave Steckel and Boyd Gordon, checking line staples on the Boudreau-coached Calder Cup champion team of 2006, were on a line with Matt Pettinger. Nicklas Backstrom centered Donald Brashear and Matt Bradley.

The defensive pairings were as follows: Mike Green and Shaone Morrisonn, Milan Jurcina and Jeff Schultz, Tom Poti and Brian Pothier, and Steve Eminger and John Erskine.

From what I could tell — and remember, this was after Semin left the ice — the first power play unit had Nylander, Backstrom and Ovechkin up front with Green and Poti on the points. The second unit was comprised of Kozlov with Clark and Fleischmann up front, and Pothier and Green on the points. My guess is that Semin would be on the point on the first unit, but time will tell.

For the a while, it seemed as though Washington’s greatest problem was simply a lack of offense. But the longer the team went without scoring enough goals to win games, the more other problems began to seep their way through the cracks of the team’s foundation. Monday’s loss to the Panthers and the way the Caps started playing midway through last night’s game with Atlanta began to make it clear that a change was necessary.

Glen Hanlon is a good man, a good hockey man and a good hockey coach. Boudreau is also all of those things. Sometimes in pro sports, it becomes necessary to have a new voice, to open up a window and let some fresh air in. There are 61 games remaining in the 2007-08 season, and Wednesday’s opponent (Atlanta) has proved how quickly things can turn around. The Thrashers were 0-6 when they relieved Bob Hartley of his head coaching duties on Oct. 17. Since then the Thrashers have won 11 of 15 games to climb a game over .500 and into a tie for sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Caps are nine points behind the Thrashers in the standings. Boudreau won’t have to wait long to get his feet wet and try to put an imprint on this team. The Caps travel to Philly tomorrow afternoon, then return home to host Carolina on Saturday, Buffalo on Monday and Florida on Wednesday. Where Boudreau is coming from, playing three games in three nights is a common occurrence. The Caps have six games in the next nine nights, so he should feel right at home.

Caps GM George McPhee would not define the term “interim,” but Boudreau took the ice this morning like a man bent upon having that tag removed as soon as possible. He worked the Caps hard in a 75-minute practice, and did not look like a “temp” on the ice. A guy who had already accepted his interim status would not have changed the lineup, and would not have raised his voice. Boudreau also instituted a policy where the last guy to skate over to the dry-erase board for a “chalk talk” does a lap.

There are those who will say that Boudreau doesn’t have the “look” of an NHL head coach. Maybe they’d rather have some stylish guy in a sweater vest with “product” in his hair. Ken Hitchcock and Randy Carlyle don’t look the part, either, but they’ve both got Stanley Cup rings. Boudreau wins everywhere he goes.

For what it’s worth, there are six current head coaches in the NHL who won Calder Cup championships in the AHL: Calgary’s Mike Keenan, Tampa Bay’s John Tortorella, Carolina’s Peter Laviolette, Nashville’s Barry Trotz, Philadelphia’s John Stevens and Ottawa’s John Paddock. Hartley and Jim Playfair are also among the recently replaced NHL head coaches who have previously won Calder Cup titles. Keenan, Tortorella, Laviolette and Hartley all followed the Calder Cup titles with Stanley Cup titles.

It’s worth remembering that the best coach the Caps have ever had (Bryan Murray) also came from the AHL ranks, and he also came from Hershey.

For more coverage of today’s events, you can find sound files and video of McPhee, Boudreau and several players at washingtoncaps.com.

Q&A With GM

November 20, 2007

Before last night’s game between the Caps and Panthers at Verizon Center, Comcast’s Al Koken, the Post’s Tarik El-Bashir and the Times’ Corey Masisak and myself had a chance to discuss the state of the Caps with general manager George McPhee. Here’s what was said:

On the surface, it seems like you got pretty good value for a guy who wasn’t playing much this year. You got a second-round pick. Are you happy with what you got?

“We thought it was real good value for someone that both teams evaluated as a fourth-line player. It only gets more expensive as the year goes on to make trades, so I think Anaheim was aggressive in stepping up with that kind of pick to do it.”

Did this come together pretty quickly?

“No, actually we’ve talked about it for a long time. We knew at the end of camp we had what we thought were some good players in penalty killing roles with some real upside, so that we were going to have to make a move with a player there. And it happened to be Brian.”

You mentioned a couple of weeks ago that it’s been really hard to make trades. Is that the case with this, is that why it took so long?

“Yes. We wanted to give it some time to make sure we evaluated people properly, but during that time we were making calls and it’s really difficult to make a trade in this league now, for a whole host of reasons. It’s tough to make a trade.”

In the not-too-distant past in this league, that was a standard ploy by a general manager. If your team was struggling in November, it’s a great time to make a trade. Even in your time here, trades have been made in November that have had an impact years in. Is it something that needs to be fixed in the league, that that [trading] avenue is not open to you anymore?

“There has been some discussion among managers and I think there will be at the next meeting about being able to pick up some salary on players to make trades easier. That may facilitate more trades, but before I commit to whether I’d want to do that or not, I’d like to hear the arguments from both sides at the meeting. But it’s certainly going to be discussed.”

Last time we spoke it was about the injuries and the tolls they had taken on the team. Now the team is at 100% hopefully for a while here. Is this kind of like the start of a new season for you guys here? Is this a chance to start evaluating everything in a different way?

“Well, it will be interesting to see how it goes. I don’t know if it’s a new season. We need to win a hockey game here and feel better about ourselves. But we’d all like to see what it looks like now that it’s intact.”

When you said you were talking to Anaheim for a while, were you looking for something other than a pick, or were you just waiting to hear pick, player, whatever satisfied your [asking price]?

“We were talking about all kinds of things with a few things with a few teams. But when it comes right down to it, it was really hard for some teams to make a trade. They just couldn’t seem to find a way to do it.”

Now on the flipside, you’ve got their [second-round] pick in 2009, your pick in 2009, you’ve got a bunch of second-round picks for next year. Does that give you more commodity now if you’re looking for a body to go out and [make a trade]?

“If someone’s willing to do that, we’d certainly be interested in talking. But we’ll have to see how it goes. This summer’s draft is supposed to be one heck of a draft, so those picks are valuable. If there is someone out there that can help us and someone wants a second-round pick for him, we’ll talk about it. We talk about a lot of things. But my experience has been the last couple of months, there’s a lot of talk and very little action. This [Sutherby trade] might be the first NHL trade this season.

When you don’t have your envisioned lineup together for the first 17 of 19 games and things are going poorly, how do you evaluate what’s going on? Does it make it more difficult? Do you make allowances?

“I think you still analyze different parts of your team and what you’re doing. How are we defensively, how are we on face-offs, how are we on the PK, how’s the grit, how’s the speed, all of those things. At this point, it’s pretty obvious that we need to score some goals. We’ll see if this guy who is coming back into the lineup can help in that department. [He scored] 38 last year and was in on another [35]. Will that be enough to help some guys that are not scoring get them scoring? Goals seem to bring more goals. A couple guys start scoring and other guys start scoring. We seem to have a lot of guys who are under their performances of the past.”

You seem to be getting chances.

“And that’s always the good news. If you’re not getting chances then there is something wrong. But boy, we’ve had lots of chances. I don’t think there is any doubt about that.”

Where on the scale of George’s panic mode are we right now? Thirteen points in the East really puts you behind the 8-ball. I hate to deal with hypotheticals, but if things continue this way, do you really have to make a drastic move of some sort, some kind of shock therapy?

“You can’t look at it in terms of a panic threshold. I’ve said it before. This is year three of this process of trying to build this team back up. Sometimes you can’t measure it all in wins and losses. Do we have good young players, and are they coming along and are they playing [well]? We could have filled this team with vets and been a better team, but does that help us win a Cup in a couple of years? Probably not. It can be a hard process sometimes and this is one of those periods when it has been difficult, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be a good team, because there are some darned good players in there.

“We’ve got the youngest defense in the league playing, and they’ve been very good. What we need to do is get some more goals.”


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