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NHL-Worst Capitals Fire Hanlon

By HOWARD FENDRICH
The Associated Press
Thursday, November 22, 2007; 3:59 PM

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Figuring they were ready to return to the playoffs, the Washington Capitals came up with a motto this fall to reflect that optimism: "New Look. New Season. New Attitude."

Well, 21 games in, it's time to add this: "New Coach."

Owners of the NHL's worst record and off to the franchise's slowest start in 26 years, the Capitals fired Glen Hanlon on Thursday and replaced him on an interim basis with minor league coach Bruce Boudreau.

Hanlon, in his fourth season at the helm, was told of the decision a day after loud boos and chants of "Fire Hanlon!" echoed through the arena during a 5-1 home loss to Atlanta, Washington's fifth consecutive defeat and ninth in 10 games.

"He understood that it had to be done. We had talked after our game on Monday night and had some concerns about whether he was losing the team," general manager George McPhee said at the team's practice facility.

"For the most part this year, I thought we were a team that played hard and wasn't getting rewarded. But the last few games it looked like we'd lost the team, and you can't ignore that. You have to do something about it."

McPhee said his mind was made up Wednesday night, and he spoke to owner Ted Leonsis then.

Boudreau was getting ready to go to practice with the Hershey Bears, Washington's American Hockey League affiliate, when he got a phone call from McPhee at about 7 a.m. Thursday. Boudreau hopped in his car and drove for nearly 3 hours, getting lost in downtown Washington along the way, before arriving at the Capitals' training rink.

He immediately made an impression during his first practice, barking instructions and making the last player to reach a huddle skate a lap.

"It's a new page," star forward Alex Ovechkin said.

Boudreau's NHL coaching debut will come Friday at Philadelphia. Coincidentally, he already was planning on being in town, because Hershey is playing there Friday, too.

Instead of trying to beat the Phantoms, he'll face the Flyers.

"I haven't really had a lot of time to focus on too much, except that it's unfortunate because Glen was a good friend of mine," Boudreau said. "But at the same time, I've sort of waited 32 years for this opportunity."

Boudreau, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks, coached seven current Capitals at Hershey, which he led to the 2006 Calder Cup title.

He takes over a club that is 6-14-1 for 13 points, four fewer than any other team in the league through Wednesday. It's also Washington's lowest 21-game point total since having 12 in the 1981-82 season.

Expectations among everyone from Leonsis to Ovechkin and other players were high entering the season, because of new signings, and things only seemed brighter after a 3-0 start. But since then, the Capitals have lost 15 of 18, leaving them with their lowest 21-game point total since having 12 in the 1981-82 season.

"It was evident that we thought it was going to be one of those seasons _ it was going to be a great season. Everybody was upbeat," goalie Olie Kolzig said. "And it just fell apart."

McPhee addressed the players Thursday and, he said, "told them they should meet together for a little bit and talk about what's been going on here, because some of them have to pull up their socks."

Other than Ovechkin, the team has had trouble scoring, and the problems have spread to other areas in recent games. Washington keeps falling behind and failing to recover, going 1-10-1 when opponents score first, and turnovers and poor line changes have been increasing.

"Until guys all decide to buy in and realize it's a team and not an individual game, then we're not going to go anywhere," Kolzig said. "But having a fresh voice in here with Bruce hopefully will turn that individualism around."

Hanlon leaves his first NHL head coaching job with a 78-123-9-29 record, and in a brief statement released through the team he called his time with the Capitals' organization, "the best years of my hockey life. ... I will be rooting for them."

The Capitals promoted Hanlon from assistant to head coach in December 2003, and wound up finishing last in their division that season. They also were last in each of Hanlon's two full seasons, when the Capitals had the league's lowest payroll.

But Leonsis proclaimed "the rebuild is over" in an interview with Associated Press reporters and editors two days before the start of this season's training camp, while Hanlon spoke about the team being ready to "shift from development to winning."

Now Boudreau will try to get some victories _ and also try to show he should keep the job.

"I'm fairly demanding," Boudreau said. "I may smile and joke with them, but if they don't do what is needed and necessary, they know they'll have to pay the price."

© 2007 The Associated Press