The rest, as Capitals fans know well, is history.
“That to me was a really important, defining moment of my coaching career,” said Reirden, who took over after Trotz departed in 2018. “Now the players now know that [is how I operate] in those situations. They learned that from me as an assistant. I worked with them now for six years and now as a head coach, and I think that that will hopefully help them during this time of uncertainty and through stuff that is unpredictable and unknown.”
The 2020 postseason, while unconventional and full of situations out of coaches’ and players’ control amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, is Reirden’s second go-round at the helm of a playoff team. It’s a second opportunity for him to bring his team back into the finals and ultimately hoist the Cup again.
In this ultimate time of uncertainty, Reirden firmly believes in his coaching ability and the planning that has gone into preparing for this year’s postseason. But ahead of Washington’s third round-robin game Sunday against the Boston Bruins, the team’s overall play has been subpar. Back-to-back losses have been filled with undisciplined play and unforced errors for a group that has only preached confidence up to this point.
This season, Reirden’s group seemed to be bouncing back after 2019′s disappointing end. The team raced out of the gate, led by a fiery offense and a hot start from Norris Trophy finalist John Carlson. Then the Capitals slowly started to unravel as inconsistencies started to emerge and the team sputtered before the four-month pause.
Supposedly refreshed and re-energized despite an unusual break and short training camp to prep for the playoffs, Reirden and the Caps hope they can regain that early season efficiency.
“It is always difficult coming off a Stanley Cup championship team and take over, and I knew that coming in. But, obviously, it has not been perfect, nor would I want it to be perfect because then it is probably too good to be true,” Reirden said. “You need to go through a little bit of adversity, and that makes me a better coach and makes our players accountable for righting the ship and being a part of the process and getting better.”
Players are quick to note that their 49-year-old coach is a “very detail-oriented” person. He wants to think one step ahead, both in terms of the team and the opposition, and wants everybody to be on the same page, both on and off the ice. Every situation is thought-out and scrutinized.
Forward T.J. Oshie said Reirden makes sure to let players go out and make plays while staying within the team’s structure. And Tom Wilson noted Reirden’s attention to video, making sure the players know their assignments and the plan heading into each situation.
“He is a high-energy coach; he brings a lot of energy to the bench. He is really positive,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “And … overall, he’s got a pretty good understanding of what is happening out there, and he is reading the game like no one I’ve had before. He’s very smart, so that’s what he is bringing to the bench. He is very positive; he tells guys what is happening out there. So that is a positive for us.”
Reirden’s demeanor on the bench and in news conferences usually comes across as stoic, and to some he could be described as composed to a fault. But Reirden sees himself as a leader who needs to stay focused and in control.
“When there is time to be shown passion, I don’t think there is one player in the room that would wonder how passionate I am about winning, coaching and my love for doing it and my love for making players better and winning hockey games,” Reirden said. “That comes out in the times that it should come out, and there is no doubt they know the passion that I have being a hockey coach and being a good one.”
But getting upset on the bench isn’t the only way to show passion. Reirden is a coach who likes to teach and help his players develop, especially the blue-liners, and he makes sure to take time off the ice during the season to pull them into his office and talk about their game and their mind-set. He notably did so with Michal Kempny when the defenseman was struggling toward the end of the regular season. He also reached out to Oshie in the offseason to help him work on his scoring chances by the net. The pair ultimately decided to tweak Oshie’s approach, which led to an uptick in goals in the first part of the season.
Reirden realizes hockey is a competitive business. He is confident in his ability to coach but knows he needs postseason results.
“I love coaching here,” Reirden said. “I love Washington, love the players, have a special bond with many of them from being able to accomplish a Stanley Cup together, and our goal is to focus on doing that again and giving ourselves every chance to have that opportunity.”
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