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Southeast: An unhappy holiday for McPhee and Caps

by Robert Picarello

Washington Capitals' GM George McPhee replaced head coach Glen Hanlon with Bruce Boudreau, after a 5-1 loss to Atlanta.
After watching his team play uninspired hockey in a 5-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers last Wednesday night, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee had seen enough.

Thanksgiving wasn't going to be a day of football and turkey. It was going to be a day of major change.

The embarrassing loss at home to the Thrashers marked the fifth-consecutive defeat at the time for the Caps, leaving the team a disappointing 6-14-1. So, McPhee made the decision, on an interim basis, to replace head coach Glen Hanlon with Bruce Boudreau, the coach of Washington's AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears.

"It's never a pleasant thing to do, but Glen was real good," McPhee explained to the media before practice last Thursday. "He understood that it had to be done. We had talked after our game on Monday night (a 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers). He had some concerns about whether he was losing the team. For the most part this year, I thought that we were a team that played hard and wasn't getting rewarded. But the last few games it looked like we had lost the team and you can't ignore that. You have to do something."

Consequently, McPhee decided to fire his good friend, who had been the club's coach since Dec. 10, 2003, in hope of saving Washington's season.

"Glen is a first-class guy," McPhee said. "He's been treating our players and staff in a first-class way. We've enjoyed having him, (but) it's not about friendships. You take the emotion out of it and do what's best for the Washington Capitals and this is what was best. Glen did a nice job bringing some of our young players along. It's not an easy thing, this process of trying to build a team – a winning team. It takes time. It can't be done overnight."

McPhee said the Capitals will take all the time they need before announcing Hanlon's permanent replacement.

"This is an interim job at the moment,” McPhee said. I don't have a timetable to make a decision on whether it will be Bruce long-term, or someone else. We need to sit back and really think hard about what's best for this hockey club.

"These decisions are important and it's going to take time to make the right decision. It could be the guy that's coaching right now (and) it could be somebody else. We just need time."

It's fair to say that McPhee likes what Boudreau brings to the table.

Boudreau has a history of winning, including a 103-45-11-16 mark with the Bears, whom he led to the Eastern Conference championship and the Calder Cup final in each of his first two years. Hershey won the Calder Cup in 2006, and last season had an AHL-best 51-17-6-6 record. Throw in the fact that seven current members of the Capitals played for him in Hershey, and you have to like Boudreau's chances of sticking around in Washington.

"He has great coaching instincts," McPhee said. "When he's on the bench it's not unlike a hockey player who has great hockey sense. They can make good decisions on the fly. There are people that sort of learn the game and there are people that just know it and just have it. Bruce is one of the guys that had great hockey sense as a player and who has great instincts on the bench."

Even though Boudreau comes in with the interim tag, the career minor-league coach is going to do everything in his power to convince McPhee and the Capitals' decision-makers that he's the right man for the job.

"It's unfortunate because Glen is a good friend of mine, but at the same time, I've waited 32 years for this opportunity and I'm looking forward to the challenge,” said Boudreau. “The No. 1 priority is to win and then we'll take it from there. This is a drastic change for Washington and, hopefully, the players get the message."

If not, some of them may be getting the same unwanted message Hanlon got from McPhee on Thanksgiving morning.

Who's hot – Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk has 11 points in his last six games, scoring five goals and six assists. …Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier has 25 points in his last 12 games, posting nine goals and 16 assists during the run. …Florida's Stephen Weiss has recorded a point in four of his last five games, collecting one goal and four assists during the stretch. In the only game the center was held scoreless in regulation – and overtime – Weiss potted the game-decider in a 2-1 shootout win against the Capitals on Wednesday. …Washington's Nicklas Backstrom has five points in his last four games, one goal and four assists. His only tally during the stretch was the game-winner in a 4-3 victory against the Flyers. …Carolina left wing Cory Stillman has recorded a point in five-straight games, netting one goal and five assists for the 'Canes. Stillman scored his team's only goal Wednesday night in a 3-1 loss to the Flyers.

Southeast quotes – "Coaches love them when they're winning and absolutely hate them when they lose."

-- Washington interim coach Bruce Boudreau said after losing 2-1 to the Panthers Wednesday night in a shootout.

"We've got to start playing better on the road. We have to find that consistency and then play that way."

-- Tampa Bay defenseman Paul Ranger said after the Lightning lost 5-1 to the Blackhawks on Wednesday night in Chicago, dropping Tampa to 2-9-1 away from home.

A look ahead – On Friday, Nov. 30, the Washington Capitals are in Carolina to take on the Hurricanes. On Saturday, , the 'Canes travel to Buffalo to square off against the Sabres. Also on that day, the Atlanta Thrashers are in New York to play the Islanders; the Florida Panthers host the Capitals and the Boston Bruins travel to Tampa Bay. Sunday, the Thrashers are in New Jersey to battle the Devils. On Monday, the Hurricanes are in New York to play the Rangers.
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