Things are different for the Washington Capitals under coach Dale Hunter than they were under Bruce Boudreau. But some things — like losing — have remained the same through two games.
“I just think the results are the same right now — we’re not scoring any goals,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “We weren’t scoring goals the last few games with Bruce, either. They’re just not going in.”
The Caps go into Saturday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators having scored just one goal in six of the past nine games. More importantly, they’ve scored one goal apiece in the first two games with Hunter at the helm, something that many are attributing to adjusting to a new system and the difficulty of producing offense from a different defensive strategy.
“We’ve just got to have a couple of things we’ve got to get better on. It’s more we’ve got to turn defense to offense,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “That’s what we’ve got to get better on and make sure we get the puck stuck in our offensive zone.”
Hunter’s 1-2-2 neutral zone trap is something the Caps are slowly getting used to. The integration of that system, and others, has been referred to with the phrase “baby steps.” Hendricks said for the fourth line it’s not hard to adjust, because the grinders played that way before.
But for the rest of the lineup, it has proven a challenge to get going offensively.
“We played a little too much in our own end, so we have to get the puck out quicker where we have possession of the puck and move the puck quicker out of our own end so we don’t play as much time,” Hunter said. “I think it’s very tiresome to the guys, and by the time they get it out, they almost have to up and change. So we’ve got to spend less time in there.”
Obviously having Mike Green (groin) in the lineup would help with that transition, but new assistant coach Jim Johnson preaches aggressive play out of defensemen throughout the lineup. That means the puck flying up ice.
“I think in order to create offense at this level you’ve got to get the defense up in the play,” Johnson said. “I’m a guy that really believes you’ve got to play a 200-foot game and it’s a speed game today, and it’s not only your forecheck speed, it’s your backcheck speed, it’s your skating speed, it’s your transition speed and it’s your intellectual speed. I think if you can play a speed game, you can have success.”
Speed is nice, but at the end of the day, the Caps need goals. As Tomas Vokoun said Thursday night, “It’s tough to win with one goal.”
But players are confident that with more work, the offense will come from good defense — and turnovers.
“We are going to create a ton. … Once, I think, everybody gets used to that, we’re going to get a lot of odd-man rushes, especially against high-risk teams,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s going to take a little bit of time. It’s not last year where we switched our whole system and it seemed to work for us right away. It takes a little bit of practice.”