The Washington Capitals face the St. Louis Blues tonight to kick off the Dale Hunter era. Yesterday, the former Caps captain became head coach No.15 in franchise history.
Hunter is the third coach in team history to have also played for the Capitals, having appeared in 872 games for the Capitals from 1987-99. Roger Crozier, head coach for one game during the 1981-82 season, played in three games for the Caps in 1976-77 while Terry Murray, head coach for 325 games from 1990-1994, appeared in 74 games with Washington during the 1981-82 season.
No.32 has some familiarity with his new roster, aside from videotaping every Caps game for the last 20 years, Hunter, coached defensemen John Carlson (2008-09) and Dennis Wideman (2001-2004) with the London Knights while they were in the OHL.
Carlson recorded 76 points (16g-60a) in 59 games for the Knights while Wideman tallied 197 points (79g-118a) in 204 games.
Dale Hunter is the second coach to move straight from the Ontario Hockey League to the NHL in the past four seasons. He was very successful in the OHL compiling a 451-189-23-24 record in 11 seasons behind the bench for the London Knights. He was the fastest head coach in OHL history to win 300, and then 400 games.
Hunter is the third consecutive coach hired by the Capitals during the middle of a season and the 11th coach in Washington’s history to be hired mid-season. The Capitals have won three of the last four debuts for coaches that were hired in the middle of a season. The Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 back on Nov-23, 2007 when Bruce Boudreau debuted behind the bench.
Washington's new coach currently has his hands full. Hunter is responsible for putting the brakes on his new team's downward spiral. The Capitals started a franchise best 7-0 this season, but since then, have looked horribly out of sync.
Washington is 5-9-1 in their last 15 games, and has surrendered 45 goals in their last 11 games. They have been outscored 19-4 during their last four road games, and allowed six goals in two periods during a Black Friday loss at home to the New York Rangers.
The teams franchise player, Alex Ovechkin is playing as badly as his team. The Great 8 is on pace for a career low point total of just 68, and on pace to match his paltry goal total from last season of 32.
Ovechkin notched his first home goal of the season last Friday, a span of 10 games. Alexander the Great had scored at least one goal in every Caps home opener since he began his career, and has 10 total. He is currently a minus-7, which is second worst on the team behind Roman Hamrlik.
Ovechkin and the Capitals will be looking for the proverbial "jump" that coaching changes bring, and one similar to the one tonight's opponent has been experiencing since the Blues fired Davis Payne in favor of disciplinarian Ken Hitchcock.
The Blues have won three games in a row and are 7-1-2 in the 10 games since Hitchcock took over on Nov. 7. St. Louis has outscored their nine opponents by a combined 25-14. The Blues have earned points in nine of their last 10 games and have jumped from 14th in the Western Conference to fifth.
The Blues are ranked No.1 in the NHL allowing just 2.04 goals per game.
Much of the Blues defensive success is coming between the pipes. Blues’ goaltenders Jaroslav Halak (6 starts) and Brian Elliott (5 starts) have recorded three shutouts and held their opponents to 16 total goals during the past 11 games. They have led the team to a 7-2-2 mark on the strength of a combined 1.40 GAA and .943 percentage.
Elliott leads the league with a 1.31 GAA and a .951 save percentage while last Friday vs. Calgary, he joined Jimmy Howard, Pekka Rinne, Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick as the only goaltenders with three shutouts. Currently riding a six-game winning streak, he hasn’t allowed more than two goals in any of his first 11 starts of the season making him the first NHL goaltender in the past 70 years.
The Blues did not allow a 2nd or 3rd period goal against in five consecutive games setting a franchise record. The streak was broken on Nov-19 at Minnesota. They have outscored their opponents 6-3 and outshot them 26-78 in second periods.
Offensively, The Blues are led by Alex Sheen (8G-8A), TJ Oshie (6G-9A), and the big hitter, David Backes, who has nine goals, and six assists. The hard-nosed Backes also s is sixth in the league with 68 hits. He’s recorded over 200 hits in each of the last four NHL seasons joining Dustin Brown and Stephane Robidas as the only players to have done so. In addition, Backes has scored the game winning goal (GWG) in the Blues’ last two wins giving him three total for the season, tying a career high first set in 2009-10.
Washington is 4-1-1 against St. Louis in its last six games and went 2-0 against the Blues last season. Four of the last six meetings have been decided by one goal and the Capitals are 3-0-0 at home against the Blues in their last three matchups in D.C. Washington has not lost to St. Louis at home since Jan. 28, 2003 (5-3 loss).
Tomas Vokoun, who is 10-5-0 with a 2.82 goals against, and a 905 save percentage has already been named tonight’s starter for Washington. The white hot Brian Elliott will get the nod for St. Louis.
Capitals defensemen Mike Green (lower body) and John Erskine (shoulder) are day-to-day and forward Jay Beagle (concussion symptoms) is out.
St. Louis is expected to be without David Perron (concussion), B.J. Crombeen (shoulder), Andy McDonald (concussion), Kent Huskins (ankle) and Carlo Colaiacovo (hamstring).