John Stevens is finally succeeding after taking over a downtrodden Philadelphia Flyers team early last season. It's uncertain just how long any potential turnaround will take for the Washington Capitals' new coach.
The Capitals, having fired Glen Hanlon, play their first game under interim coach Bruce Boudreau when they face Stevens and the upstart Flyers on Friday.
Washington (6-14-1), with the NHL's worst record and off to the franchise's worst start in 26 years, fired Hanlon on Thursday and replaced him with Boudreau. Hanlon was told of his fate a day after a 5-1 home loss to Atlanta on Wednesday night, the Capitals' fifth straight defeat and ninth in 10 games.
"For the most part this year, I thought we were a team that played hard and wasn't getting rewarded," Washington general manager George McPhee said. "But the last few games it looked like we'd lost the team, and you can't ignore that. You have to do something about it."
The Capitals' situation is similar to what the Flyers (12-7-1) went through last season, when they replaced Ken Hitchcock with Stevens following a 1-6-1 start. Philadelphia finished with an NHL-worst 56 points, but it's showing promise this season with 25 points through 20 games.
Washington, meanwhile, isn't even sure if it has its long-term coach in place yet.
Boudreau coached seven current Capitals at Hershey, which he led to the 2006 Calder Cup title. He's taking over a team that has four fewer points than any other team in the league.
With 13 points, the Capitals have their lowest 21-game point total since having 12 in the 1981-82 season.
Washington got off to a 3-0 start and expectations were high for a team including star Alex Ovechkin and some new signings, but it has gone 3-14-1 since and it is ranked 25th in the NHL with 47 goals. Ovechkin has been the team's only scoring threat, totaling 14 goals and 23 points.
Ovechkin has registered a point in eight straight games against the Flyers since being held off the scoresheet in his first career contest against them, totaling 10 goals and 17 points during that stretch. He had a goal in the teams' first meeting this season, but Washington lost 3-2 on Nov. 2.
Daniel Briere, meanwhile, has helped Philadelphia's resurgence in his first season with the team, and is coming off his best game with the Flyers. The veteran center scored three goals in the third period for his third career hat trick, and added an assist to lead Philadelphia past Carolina 6-3 on Wednesday night.
"That, to me, it is the best he's looked all year," Stevens said.
Briere now has 10 goals and a team-best 24 points. Unlike Ovechkin, Briere is surrounded by a strong supporting cast with four other players who have scored at least six goals.
Briere, who signed with Philadelphia in the offseason after three seasons in Buffalo, has six goals and 16 points in his last 13 games versus the Capitals. Briere, Mike Richards and R.J. Umberger all scored in this season's first meeting with Washington.
Richards had a six-game point streak (three goals, nine points) snapped Wednesday.