For nearly five seasons, the Capitals waged countless battles against John Tortorellaâ€™s Rangers, a hard-nosed unit that put defense and self-sacrifice above all else.
New York, however, grew tired of Tortorellaâ€™s abrasive approach, firing him in May and hiring former Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault in his place. On Wednesday night, the Capitals will get their first look at Vigneaultâ€™s up-tempo, offense-friendly system.
â€śIâ€™m excited to see what their new style is like,â€ť Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. â€śItâ€™s always really frustrating playing against them because as D, you can never get a puck through.â€ť
Compared to Tortorellaâ€™s style of play, Vigneaultâ€™s relies less on blocking shots and jamming passing lines and more on creating odd-man opportunities by having the defensemen join the rush. In theory, it is designed to provide New Yorkâ€™s offensive players with freedom they did not have previously.
The Rangersâ€™ transition is not without its growing pains. They enter Wednesdayâ€™s game â€” the sixth in a season-opening nine-game road trip â€” at 1-4-0, allowing a league-high five goals per game, while scoring just 1.8 per game, tied for third-fewest.
It is an adjustment that the Capitals are all too familiar with, having gone through a similar change last season under Adam Oates.
â€śOn paper, theyâ€™ve got a great team and they should be able to figure it out and string a few more wins together,â€ť Alzner said. â€śThereâ€™s something internally or thereâ€™s something â€” maybe they know they have a good team and theyâ€™re just kind of waiting for it to come, and we know what itâ€™s like. Itâ€™s very frustrating.â€ť
Alzner said Tuesday that the Rangers might still have Tortorellaâ€™s message ingrained in them, so while he may be gone, their industrious mentality endures.
â€śWe know that they work hard,â€ť Caps defenseman Mike Green said. â€śI know the players over there. … They all work hard and are competitors. If thatâ€™s what they have, theyâ€™re still going to play good hockey.â€ť