Every once in while, a reporter has to look back at something written and admit it was wrong. Over the weekend here at Inside Hockey it was stated that it’s way too early in the season to consider a coaching change. Washington Capitals General Manager Geaorge McPhee disagreed. That’s why going into tonight’s game at the Verizon Center, Washington officially begins the Dale Hunter era.
As most of us remember, Dale Hunter, unlike the man he replaced, is an all time great NHL player. He was also captain for the Washington Capitals for many years. Recently he has been coaching the OHL’s London Knights. The OHL is the premiere league for juniors but, let’s not compare the Windsor Spitfires to the Detroit Red Wings any time soon. Hunter, like the man he replaced, has won a championship at the lower level but will need to be more Dan Bylsma ( Pittsburgh Penguins) than Bruce Boudreau at the pro level.
It’s not very often a team with three straight division titles, a president’s trophy and one of the most dynamic players in the league makes a mid-season change but the Capitals are if nothing else, unique.
Normally a coach hired mid season inherits a mid to low-tier team in need of a spark but devoid of any real expectations. While it seems like Dale Hunter is inheriting the perfect situation, think first about his grace period and room for error. None and none. The Capitals are expected to win the Stanley Cup this year.
Which leads us to tonight. Hunter has already re-inserted D-man John Erskine into the lineup and given Mathieu Perrault and Jeff Schultz bleacher seats. He has left the other lines untouched, for now.
St Louis comes into tonight’s game with a better record than Washington and on a tear. The Blues are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games.
Washington enters action on a two game losing streak and three points behind division leading Florida.
It’s not uncommon for players to respond well in the midst of a shakeup. Heck, a couple years ago Bruce Boudreau took over a terrible Caps team mid season, that went on a huge winning streak, culminating in winning the Southeast Division on the last day of the season. It wouldn’t be suprising to see Alexander Ovechkin score a hat trick tonight to vindicate a change. Or see Alexander Semin play ferocious defense.
Largely tho, tonight is not the night for fans to see a “Dale Hunter” team. Tonight is a night to hope the Capitals can summon some fire and outplay St. Louis. We won’t see a “Dale Hunter” team (whatever that is) for at least a couple weeks.
Oh yeah, the question. How much stock goes into tonight’s game? Very little. Unless of course they win. Then all fans will hear is how great the move was. But remember, patience is a virtue and so is leadership. Let’s hope Dale Hunter has alot of both.
Follow Charlie Passero on Twitter @CAnthonyPassero