Originally posted on Turner Sports Desk  |  Last updated 11/29/11
For those of you thinking that Dale Hunter would step in and magically cure the Caps of 4 years of bad habits welcome back to hockey reality. Last night's 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues was the first step with 59 steps/games remaining on a journey back to team hockey.
Here is a fact for your consumption. The 1998 Eastern Conference Champion Capitals (yes...the Caps experienced success before Ovechkin newbies) made it to the Stanley Cup finals by being close to air-tight in their own zone and with timely-opportunistic offense. They had one real goal scorer in Peter Bondra (52 goals) but even Bondra played within the framework of the overall defense first scheme. Bondra created his own opportunities for himself and others by buying in and playing both ways. Coach Ron Wilson had success because that Caps TEAM out worked, out hit and out hustled everyone except the eventual Cup Champion Red Wings. 
Fast forward to 2011 and this Caps squad that is loaded with talent but they are far from a team right now. The first thing people say when you mention the Caps is the word talented. The problem is they are not saying talented and hard working. The most important lessons Dale Hunter has to teach is showing the this team how to play hockey without the puck. Hunter is going to show them that you have to win battles in order to earn shots that win games. Last night St. Louis earned a win by winning more small physical and mental battles. Dale's biggest job is showing Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin that they can create offense for themselves and others by playing defense. No one is asking them to become Selke winners but they can definitely play within the overall scheme and create chances for themselves and others. Peter Bondra scored a ton of goals in a highly defensive system so there is no reason Ovechkin and Semin cannot do the same if they buy in and commit to working hard consistently.

You can no longer run and gun your way to a Stanley Cup like Gretzky and Lemieux did so for those hoping the Caps will get back to that style of hockey your amateur is showing. The Caps under Bruce Boudreau proved that a ceiling existed for run and gun hockey. The moment someone takes away time and space the Caps looked like fish out of water. It is good for regular season wins, home ice in the playoffs, plenty of accolades and beating the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs but not much else. 

As the Caps move forward with Hunter and his style of play we will see who is not fitting in. We will see who values their "numbers" more than wins and losses. We will also see who requests to seek life elsewhere. This style of hockey (winning hockey) requires hard work, discipline, patience and toughness. Some of the guys starting this journey will not be here at the end.   The same principles of patience and discipline goes for Caps fans who got spoiled on the Fool's gold that was Bruce Boudreau's tenure. Bruce won a lot of games and the style of hockey he coached was exciting for fans but the results speak volumes. I'll take winning the games that matter most over winning a bunch of games ten times out of ten and twice on Sunday. The ONLY goal is the Stanley Cup. Not making it to the second round, beating the Penguins or just getting to the finals. The ONLY goal is being the last team standing at Season's end. The real journey towards that goal started last night.

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