- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 1, 2011

Roman Hamrlik’s play has raised the ire of fans for being responsible when opponents score on the Washington Capitals. His minus-10 rating and 18 penalty minutes haven’t helped.

On Thursday, the 37-year-old’s seat was in the press box as a healthy scratch for the first time this season.

“It’s feeling,” coach Dale Hunter said before facing the Pittsburgh Penguins. “It’s one of those things that we just decide as a coaching staff.”

Jeff Schultz was inserted back into the lineup in place of Hamrlik and was on the ice for the Penguins’ first-period goal, along with rookie Dmitry Orlov.

Hunter and systems

The phrase that has been used the most around the Caps since Hunter’s arrival is “baby steps.” That explains how the new coach has been implementing his systems.

“We’re not drastic yet because baby steps,” Hunter said. “If you overwhelm them, they stop skating, they freeze and think and don’t skate. The neutral zone will change and the D-zone and forecheck. Just tweak that a bit.”

The adjustments have forced the Caps to think more than just reacting, though Thursday night featured a much more aggressive forecheck and plenty of hitting.

Vokoun wants rhythm

Tomas Vokoun started Thursday night against Pittsburgh, which didn’t come as any surprise to the 35-year-old with the far better numbers than backup Michal Neuvirth.

Each game and each opportunity is a chance for Vokoun to improve what he has called performance that’s not up to his standards.

“It’s all performance-based. It hasn’t been easy around here for some time, but not everything’s bad,” Vokoun said. “It’s not where I want to be. But it’s not my statistics or the win-loss record — it’s not terrible, either. You have to keep things in perspective and things didn’t go well, and I didn’t play good to my standards. You’re going to go through stuff like that in a season.”

Vokoun and the Caps hope that stuff is over and that he can sharpen up with this “fresh start” under Hunter.

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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