- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

One part of being a Jack Adams Award-winning coach is X’s and O’s. Bruce Boudreau knows plenty about that.

Perhaps a more important element of coaching in the NHL is properly motivating players. As far as that goes, the league’s reigning coach of the year is an expert.

A night after their work ethic was questioned by Boudreau, the Washington Capitals outplayed the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 6-3 victory. Alex Ovechkin - whom Boudreau singled out Tuesday - had two goals and an assist, but it wasn’t just the Caps’ top player who answered his coach’s criticism.

“I think we all did. Bruce’s comment about Ovie, I think he could’ve made that about all of our guys,” center Brooks Laich said. “We weren’t playing a structured, disciplined game. When we play that way we win, and when we don’t play that way - when we start ad-libbing and being on our own page - we fall apart. We give up goals, and we don’t score as many.”

That wasn’t an issue against Pittsburgh, unlike the Caps’ effort Tuesday in a defeat by the Oilers. Washington’s struggles in that loss, in which Edmonton outshot the Caps 36-23, caused Boudreau to demote Ovechkin to the second line during the game and question his team’s effort afterward.

Although the Caps peppered Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with 42 shots, Boudreau wanted little credit for his postgame comments, which included saying his players were focusing too much on offense and neglecting to play defense.

“Those guys did the work,” he said. “We put the foundation in [that] if we follow this plan, we’ll be successful. And they followed it perfectly.”

It certainly wasn’t a perfect game, but it was the kind of midseason win against a rival that could help later in the year. Setting aside off-ice drama stemming from derisive remarks Caps wing Alexander Semin made about Penguins center Sidney Crosby to a Russian reporter in October, the Caps got traffic in front of the net and got their power play clicking.

Washington went 2-for-3 in five-on-four situations, with Ovechkin and Tomas Fleischmann scoring goals.

“I think all of us, to a man, we got back to playing the way we can,” Laich said. “Our third and fourth lines got the puck in and created energy and dumped the puck [into the zone], and our top guys made plays.”

That’s exactly what Boudreau wanted from his players after three straight losses. Running into hot goaltenders aside, the Caps understood why their coach expressed frustration with their play.

“You have to look at yourselves individually and look in the mirror and do some soul-searching and find out what’s not working for you and why you’re not playing as well as you should,” center David Steckel said. “I think a lot of guys, we took it upon ourselves - we don’t wanna be embarrassed individually again.”

Far from embarrassed, the Caps head into Saturday night’s game against the Bruins as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. And though he won’t accept the praise, Boudreau said he’s happy to enjoy the result.

“We had lost three in a row, and it’s amazing how quick you begin to feel that ‘Oh man, when was the last time we won?’-type situation,” he said. “And then you look after the game and the guys are happy, and that’s what you want. That’s what you look forward to.”