There’s no way to know exactly how the next few days and weeks will go for the Washington Capitals under new coach Dale Hunter. Asked about what he expected in his first game Tuesday night, Hunter smiled.
“They’re going to have to work,” he said. “If we work, I have no problem with it.”
Whether that translates into success in the short- and long-term is a question that will be answered soon, but the first NHL team to fire a coach this season was the St. Louis Blues, the Caps’ opponent Tuesday night.
After firing Davis Payne and hiring Stanley Cup-winning bench boss Ken Hitchock, the Blues have been on a roll and provided the shining example for what a coaching change can do.
“The guys have responded,” Blues analyst and ex-player Bernie Federko said. “We’re 7-1-2 under Hitch since he’s come in. Not that Davis Payne was a bad coach or is a bad voice. You’ve got a guy that has a reputation like Hitch does, he’s had great success, and with that in mind, the guys knew that you can’t mess around with what Hitch has done.”
“It’s a new voice, and it’s a new respect, I think.”
Hitchcock’s 7-1-2 start is the best for a new coach in his first 10 games. The Blues are a talented group, and though the Caps had higher preseason expectations, they hope Hunter taking charge will produce a similar surge.
“Here’s another situation where Dale’s going to get immediate respect and that the guys will play hard right off the bat, as everybody does with a new coach,” Federko said.