The Capitals have split their six games under Coach Dale Hunter so far, but in their most recent contests the team showed an elevated comfort level with the new system.
Consecutive wins against Ottawa and Toronto last week, before three days off, showed the progress and continued evolution of a group looking to play more sound defensively while not stifling its biggest offensive threats.
With Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia up next on Tuesday at Verizon Center, the Capitals’ proficiency in their new game will face another test.
“Pretty much measured every game,” Hunter said when asked if the Flyers were a stiffer test. “You take one game at a time and you measure by 11 o’ clock tonight, how well you did. That’s the attitude you’ve got to take, that you worry about the game at hand and nothing else matters.”
Granted, the Flyers will be without NHL leading scorer Claude Giroux (39) points, captain Chris Pronger and Brayden Schenn, but there’s still plenty of depth to test Washington.
For the Capitals, keeping their momentum rolling after three days off and a road trip later in the week will be important not only to rack up points but continue the assimilation to the different style of play.
“The last couple games I feel we’ve been real good,” Troy Brouwer said about the adjustment process. “We know where to be all over the ice, we have confidence in the new system now. When you’re losing the fist couple games and not getting too many chances it’s tough to kind of stick with it but the guys did, Dale kept reinforcing what we needed to do. Over the last couple games we’ve been really systematically sound, disciplined in our systems and that’s been why we’ve been able to win.”
This stretch between games provided rest for the players, and rather than run the team through lengthy on-ice workouts, Hunter and his staff have kept things efficient on the ice and used video as well to iron out some kinks of the system. Seeing the game plan unfold on the ice against a live opponent, and learning from it, has had advantages.
“We’ve kind of been learning on the fly in games, trying it out in games and that’s been great feedback because there’s video [coaches] go through it again and then you get a result at the end of the night as well,” Mike Knuble said. “He’s almost got to come in and brainwash us a little bit. There’s little things, tendencies to take a risk and try to create an offensive chance where you might have had a green light to do that in the past, you don’t have it as much now. You want to err on the side of a smart play defensively, regroup, play well defensively and try it again.”