Before the morning skate’s official start time of 10 a.m. struck, the Capitals were all on the ice at KCI for what was a brisk session, roughly 45 minutes long, with Dale Hunter leading the team through drills before his NHL coaching debut.
Hunter said he will be changing the team’s systems, but that it is important not to bombard the players with too many alterations at once.
“It is a fine line; I changed a few things but you can’t make drastic changes because you don’t have time to practice,” Hunter said. “Every coach has different systems and I changed my systems a bit from Bruce’s…Forecheck, neutral zone, d-zone, basically the whole ice, I guess. I’m not trying to change too much right now it’s pretty quick to get everybody on a different page here right now, but I definitely changed a few things.”
Hunter was up early at the rink this morning, watching tape and trying to get a better feel for all of the Capitals players. A constant theme in his comments when asked about what he expects from the team is work. Lots of hard work.
“I want to be a good forechecking team, very sound defensively, and by playing good defensively we create offense,” Hunter explained when questioned about the on-ice identity he wants Washington to play with. “We knock pucks off sticks and they get caught on odd-man rushes because we’re sound in own end.”
Said Brooks Laich: “I think he’s going to be an in-your-face coach but I think our team is going to take on that identity, that same sort of identity when he played. He’s preaching strong defensive hockey, he’s preaching speed, taking time and space away and he’s excited to be here.”
One of the particular areas that Hunter spent time on during practice was the power play, which enters the game against St. Louis an unremarkable 16.3 percent (17th in the league).
One group had Alex Ovechkin on the half wall, Mike Knuble in front and Alexander Semin roving with Dmitry Orlov on the point as well as Brooks Laich, who would slide down the right side boards in addition to patrolling the blueline.
The second group included Nicklas Backstrom on the wall, Marcus Johansson roving, Troy Brouwer or Jason Chimera in front with John Carlson and Dennis Wideman on the points.
Asked what he likes about having Orlov on the points, Hunter said: “His mobility up top is great. He can pass the puck, he looks like a headsy D. He can really move on the point, I like that mobility.”