Time for a Change
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.