Blues-Capitals Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 28, 2011
The St. Louis Blues made a coaching change early in the month that provided a spark to a struggling team. The Washington Capitals hope their bold move has the same result. Washington fired Bruce Boudreau after four seasons Monday, and new coach Dale Hunter will make his NHL debut Tuesday night when the Capitals host the surging Blues. Boudreau guided Washington to four straight Southeast Division crowns and became the fastest coach to 200 regular-season victories in modern NHL history with 4-3 overtime win over Phoenix on Nov. 21. The Capitals, though, went 17-20 in the postseason during Boudreau's tenure and failed to get past the second round. Washington (12-9-1) has gone 5-9-1 after opening the season with seven straight victories, and a listless effort in a 5-1 loss to Buffalo on Saturday seemed to seal Boudreau's fate. "This wasn't a slump. You can ride out slumps," vice president and general manager George McPhee said. "This was a case of players were no longer responding to Bruce. When you see that, as much as you don't want to have to make a change, you have to make a change." They'll turn to a Capitals legend to help right the ship. Hunter, a former captain whose No. 32 is retired by Washington after playing 11-plus seasons with the team from 1987-99, takes over after a historic run with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. He is the fastest coach in league history to 300 and 400 career wins and was in his 11th season with the team prior to taking the Capitals job. Hunter coached nine eventual first-round draft picks and three No. 1 overall selections - Rick Nash (2002), Patrick Kane (2007) and John Tavares (2009) - during his tenure with London. Current Capitals defenseman John Carlson, the team's 2008 first-round pick, played under Hunter. McPhee said he's talked consistently with Hunter over the years about eventually coaching in Washington, and he's excited to have a franchise legend behind the bench. "No one's been better at that level," McPhee said. "That Ontario Hockey League that's been around forever, he has the highest winning percentage of all-time. It's not a flash in the pan, one or two or three years. It's 11 years, (and) he's turned that franchise into the best junior franchise going. "This is the only team he's ever wanted to coach. I was always hoping that one day Dale could coach this team, but timing is everything. The time is right now." While McPhee said the change solely didn't happen because of the declining play of Alex Ovechkin, he's likely hoping Hunter can help turn around the superstar. ''I don't think this has anything to do with Alex Ovechkin,'' said McPhee, noting that the team's highest-paid player will remain its captain. ''I think it's got everything to do with this team not playing well.'' Ovechkin has one goal and two assists in his last eight games combined and was a minus-4 in the loss to Buffalo. He'll have a chance to impress his new coach versus the Blues, against whom he has two goals and six assists in six career games. St. Louis (13-8-2) has been on a roll since replacing Davis Payne with veteran coach Ken Hitchcock on Nov. 6, going 7-1-2 since the change. The Blues have won three straight after Sunday's 2-1 win over Columbus and outscored opponents 25-12 during Hitchcock's tenure. The run has been in large part due to the solid play of Brian Elliott, who made 23 saves Sunday. Elliott improved to 10-1-0 with an NHL-best 1.31 goals-against average. Hitchcock, though, named Jaroslav Halak the starter for Tuesday's game despite his 3-7-2 mark and 2.57 GAA. Halak has improved since a slow start, going 2-1-2 with a 1.56 GAA over his last five starts. Additionally, he is 3-1-0 with a 1.51 GAA in his last four versus Washington, with three of them coming in the postseason while with Montreal and one with St. Louis. The Capitals have won three of the last four meetings and three straight in Washington.
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