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New coach tasked with getting Ovi rolling again

by Corey Masisak
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Dale Hunter wore the captain's "C" in Washington for five seasons, which is longer than any player in the Capitals' history.

His fate as the franchise's coach now rests in the performance of the top players on the roster, and particularly the guy who will eventually break his team record for captaincy longevity.

Brooks Laich said "it (stinks)" that Bruce Boudreau took the fall Monday morning when the Capitals players were truly at fault for the team's recent slide. While he is probably correct, the same burden now passes to Hunter, who was introduced as the team's new coach at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Hunter's immediate mandate will be to get this struggling team to play better, but his long-term success will hinge on Alex Ovechkin.


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"Everybody in their career goes through slumps in every sport," Hunter said of Ovechkin. "Not a slump -- he's been good, he's been scoring, but we have such a high level [of expectation] of Alex that we always expect more. There's always pressure on him, but again, it's a team game and Alex is one part of it -- a big part of it -- but definitely we have to play better as a team. It starts with the goaltending to the D. The best players have to get the puck on their sticks."

Ovechkin was an immediate sensation in 2005-06, collecting the Calder Memorial Trophy and NHL First Team All Star honors in the process. Glen Hanlon was Ovechkin's first coach, and the Russian scoring machine adored him.

Hanlon taught a young and undermanned (sans Ovechkin) team to work hard, but the results didn't improve as the talent around the team's star did. Hanlon was also a defensive-minded guy, and when he was replaced by Boudreau it was an injection of offensive energy for the Capitals, and especially Ovechkin.

After a sub-par (by his standards) sophomore campaign, Ovechkin flourished again with Boudreau in charge. He had 65 goals in Boudreau's first year and 56 the second year. He might have been at his best in 2009-10, collecting 50 goals and 109 points in only 72 games.

"I think, first of all, the guys who work with Bruce know he's a great coach and a great guy," Ovechkin said. "For everybody in this organization he makes of lots of good things. We won a lot. He cared for the team and each person."

Things have not gone as well of late for Ovechkin, and Boudreau's demise in Washington can be tied pretty closely to that. Last season was the worst statistically of Ovechkin's career. It was dismissed by some as a sign that Ovechkin was working more on his defensive game, but his deficiencies at that end of the ice remain.

As the Capitals began to lose games this season, it was alarming both because of the frequency and how soundly they were defeated at times. Pundits have pointed at Ovechkin, and a possible rift with his coach.


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Ovechkin denied such an issue Monday.

"No, I have good relationship with [Boudreau] and it is going to be a good relationship," Ovechkin said. "Work is work, but we have good relationship right away when he came here."

His comments when asked if the team had stopped listening to Boudreau though, were less complimentary.

"I don't know -- it can be like … you can be tired with the coach telling you and maybe mistakes and something like that," Ovechkin said. "This is decision [general manager George McPhee] makes and we just have to look forward, don't look back. Or if we're going to look back at what happened, we don't have to talk to [the media] about it. We just have to be now a family in the locker room."

Hunter's challenge will be to get Ovechkin scoring again. Hunter has been described as a no-nonsense coach, a guy who will ride his stars if necessary.

Ovechkin needs to produce more at both ends of the ice for the Capitals to succeed. Maybe Hunter's demanding ways will be the key to Ovechkin regaining his place among the world's best players. Having Hunter here could also help Ovechkin as he continues to grow into his role as captain.

"Definitely, I can help," Hunter said. "It's responsibility because you're dealing with other players and you're the go-between between the coaches and them. He shouldn't have it all on his shoulders, winning or losing, or getting the players to play the right way or dealing with the players, it's more that we have a good bunch of guys that care about winning and losing and there's going to be more team leadership and more team wins."

Ovechkin said he didn't have a lot of time to talk with Hunter on Monday morning, but he did chat with the two guys on the roster who have played for Hunter before in the Ontario Hockey League with the London Knights -- John Carlson and Dennis Wideman.

He and Hunter will probably spend a lot of time talking in the coming days and weeks. Ovechkin will bear some responsibility for Boudreau's dismissal, and now he and Hunter will have to be in harmony for both of their legacies in Washington not to suffer.

"What they say is [Hunter] is a straight-up coach," Ovechkin said. "Like if he wants to say something to you, he is going to say it. I think it is good."
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