"We want to accomplish the ultimate goal and that's to be going down Constitution Avenue with the Cup in the backseat of somebody's car."
-- Bruce Boudreau
"He wins," McPhee said at the Caps' practice facility on the morning of Nov. 22, 2007.
How prophetic, because that's precisely what Boudreau has done in Washington.
"Winning is it; I have a hard time thinking of doing anything without the ultimate goal -- victory," Boudreau told NHL.com. "It doesn't always come true, but if that's not your goal than you're looking to be mediocre. As a player, maybe I didn't learn that early in my career. But over the last half of my playing career and now in coaching, it's all about winning."
Why such an emphasis on winning?
"Because winning and having fun go hand in hand," Boudreau said. "Winning is fun for anyone who's competitive. We want to have fun and want to be a close-knit team, but the most fun you can have is when you're winning. If you look at teams that are losing, they're probably not having a lot of fun. But teams winning want to come to the rink every morning and work hard because they know what the end result is going to be."
The 53-year-old coach, who celebrates his one-year anniversary with the Capitals Saturday with a visit to San Jose, has coached 80 NHL games. His 48-22-10 record over that stretch would put him on a 110-point pace for a full season. Washington's 11-5-3 mark through 19 games in 2008-09 has the club 12 points ahead of their pace at the same point last season (6-12-1).
"I think that in dealing with any player, you have to be honest with them," Boudreau said. "I find getting to know your players is so important. It's my job to get each one of them to play their best. There are 20 different personalities on our team and, a lot of times, you have to take 20 different approaches."
That hasn't been a problem for Boudreau. It's no wonder McPhee named him the team's permanent coach less than a month (Dec. 26) after asking him to right the ship after just 21 games last year.
At the time Boudreau replaced Glen Hanlon, the Caps were 6-14-1 and at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Five months later and before a sold-out Verizon Center, there he was, celebrating a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers that gave the Capitals their first Southeast Division title in seven years and first Stanley Cup playoff berth in five. As icing on the cake, Boudreau won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL coach of the year in June.
Since his first game as an NHL coach, a 4-3 win at Philadelphia on Nov. 23, 2007, Boudreau has stressed a defense-first approach by way of a suffocating offensive assault. His philosophy has worked like a charm.
"We preach defense, but its pressure defense and when you've got good teams without the puck, you just want them to be responsible and do their job," he said. "When we have the puck, I'm not telling Alex Ovechkin to deke out two guys and make one pass. He has God-given abilities that are far beyond those of a lot of people. I mean (Alexander) Semin and Ovechkin can be as creative as they want as long as they play within the parameters of a team game. Without the puck, we have to play and know what we're doing."
After dropping a seven-game series to the Flyers in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, Boudreau's mantra entering the 2008-09 was "Good is not good enough."
"I don't think there was a player in the locker room that wasn't totally upset when we lost last year. We want to accomplish the ultimate goal and that's to be going down Constitution Avenue with the Cup in the backseat of somebody's car," Boudreau said. "I think we learned a lot in our series with Philly. I thought we were very tentative in our first three games and got behind in the series, 2-1. In the last four games, we lost two in OT and won two and I think very easily could have won all four of them. Once we understood what the playoffs were all about, players started playing the way they could play. I thought we were the better team even though the end result would prove otherwise."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.