It wasn’t a perfect first outing for Dale Hunter as head coach as the St. Louis Blues handed the Capitals a 2-1 loss on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.
But Hunter took positives from the way his new charges worked against the Blues, especially given that it was their first game under his direction with his systems at the forefront of their focus. Players acknowledged that they are going through an adjustment period, particularly those who spent multiple seasons under Bruce Boudreau and grew acclimated to the way the former coach wanted the Capitals to play.
“When you work on habits every day for the last couple years, there’s some habits to break around here to get Dale’s way going so that will take a little time,” Mike Knuble said, adding that he doesn’t believe it will take too long for the Capitals to adjust. “We’re pretty smart guys. We’ll figure it out.”
Said Matt Hendricks: “There’s a learning curve. When you’re thinking the game and not just reacting to it, it takes a little bit of a delay after your step. Maybe you’re not as quick, not 100 percent sure what your teammate, linemate is going to do with the puck. We’re working on that too.”
Hunter explained afterward that he was pleased that Washington didn’t allow many odd-man rushes, which had plagued the team in previous contests, but that he wants to see a more well-established forecheck that allows players to develop a cycle-based offensive presence.
It is a challenge for Hunter to implement everything he wants as quickly as he would like to, though, given the Capitals’ schedule has them playing games every other day until they get a three-day reprieve starting on Dec. 10. So for now, it’s all about those small steps forward with the new program.
“It’s not like its three days off or something that you can really hammer it home so it’s a slow process,” Hunter said. “Because you can’t skate them long tomorrow because we’ve got a game the next day and after a game like this, it’s tough on you. Your body’s got to recover and be ready to Thursday, so it’s just video and a little bit on the ice.”