Boudreau returns to DC, where he helped put hockey ‘front-and-center’

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Brooks Laich remembers the days when a ticket to a Washington Capitals game wasn’t exactly a hot commodity. The 30-year-old first donned a Caps uniform in 2003-04, before Alex Ovechkin was drafted and when average attendance was just 14,720 to watch a team that finished with a dreadful 23-46-10-3 record.

But Laich doesn’t just credit Ovechkin with hockey’s turnaround in DC. He also credits current Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau, who returns to the Verizon Center tonight for the first time since being fired by the Caps in late 2011.

“He turned hockey from a back-burner sport into a front-and-center, front page, exciting, real entertaining game,” Laich said, per CSN Washington. “Certainly, the players and organization have had a role in that, too, but he was one of the leading forces to putting hockey on the map in Washington.”

Because it wasn’t just that the Caps started winning games under Boudreau; it was the way they played, running and gunning in a league that was desperately trying to move on from the so-called “dead puck” era.

Eventually, after failing to make a deep run in the playoffs, and with his team being accused of playing the “wrong way,” Boudreau dialed it back in an attempt to play the “right way” — a move he later hinted went against his instincts.

If only Jaroslav Halak hadn’t…well, no point in going over that again; that’s history now.

“Look what he’s done with [Anaheim],” Laich said. “They were a team on the decline and now they’re at the top of the standings again.”

Indeed, the Ducks are red hot, with eight straight victories and a 26-7-5 record.

Ovechkin credits Oates for MVP win, says foot is healing fine

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Alex Ovechkin taking home his third career Hart Trophy yesterday may have been seen as an upset by some, but for the Russian superstar he says he wouldn’t have done it without Adam Oates.

In speaking on a conference call today, Ovechkin says he put all his faith into Oates to lead him right, especially when moving from left wing to right wing.

“I told him, ‘Thank you very much.’ I’m just happy because, again, it’s history. It means a lot for me. It’s history,” Ovechkin said.

“I tell Adam I’m going to go along with you starting the first day. I tell him, ‘I trust you.’ He said, ‘Okay, just listen to me and you are going to be okay.’ I listened to him. Right now almost — I’m okay.”

Oates has been Ovechkin’s biggest supporter as well this season and what one was able to do for the other is evident. After the “good old days” under Bruce Boudreau to the rough time he had with Dale Hunter, it’s fun to see Ovechkin find a new buddy in Adam Oates.

As for the hairline fracture in his foot, Ovechkin says it’s healing just fine.

“Foot is okay. Right now I’m working fine. I’m going to start playing tennis soon. I’m going to be in good shape.”

Watch Mike Milbury critique Alex Ovechkin

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The Philadelphia Flyers are really handing it to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday. When things go poorly for the Caps, the attention frequently shifts to their highly paid star Alex Ovechkin.

That was the case during the second intermission of tonight’s game, as Mike Milbury provided this passionate critique of Ovechkin’s effort and production:

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Milbury has weighed in on the famous 27-year-old several times before. Here are some choice cuts:

Is he still elite?

Has he been used correctly?

Looking back at Bruce Boudreau’s firing

Crosby vs. Ovechkin – the next Magic vs. Bird?

Ovechkin felt “trapped” by Hunter, wasn’t happy last year

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Alex Ovechkin struggled — at least relative to the extremely high standards he’s held to — last season. He had a career-low 65 points, and former coach Dale Hunter limited his playing time in the postseason.

“With more ice I can give more to the team,” Ovechkin said to Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington. “It was [Hunter’s] decision and he had his own mind and his own kind of personality and his own systems. Of course sometimes I felt trapped.”

The superstar forward kept his frustrations to himself at the time, which is something he felt was necessary because the team was in the middle of a playoff run. Still, he wasn’t happy last season and he’s convinced he can do more for his team.

He might get that chance under new coach Adam Oates.

“I just feel trust,” Ovechkin said when asked about his impression of Oates. “It’s the most important thing for any player. When you feel trust from your coach you feel unbelievable and you want to go play for him. Right away when I met him I just feel it.”

The Moscow-native also feels good about Oates’ system and thinks the Capitals will play well in it.

Regardless though, Ovechkin is likely to at very least seem happy.

“I’m always smiling,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. I’m always smiling.”

Related:

Brett Hull on Ovechkin: “He’s going to thrive under Oates”

Holtby likely starter for Caps’ opener, No. 1 gig still open

Boudreau admits he wanted the Caps to lose

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He may have landed on his feet in Anaheim, but Bruce Boudreau still didn’t want the team that fired him to do well in last year’s playoffs.

The former head coach of the Washington Capitals, now the Ducks’ bench boss, confessed as much in an interview with NHL.com.

“I think human nature dictates that I didn’t want them to win,” Boudreau said. “I think that’s just human nature. I was hoping for some players to have success and players I really like to do well and they did, but quite frankly nobody ever admits it — and maybe I just did — but I wasn’t exactly pulling for them because it would have validated me losing my job.”

Boudreau was fired by the Capitals in November after a tumultuous stint in Washington that included plenty of regular-season success but repeated playoff disappointment.

Along the way the Caps went from playing a run-and-gun style to practically the opposite end of the spectrum under Boudreau’s replacement, Dale Hunter.

Purely from an X’s and O’s standpoint, Washington’s been a fascinating team to watch the past few seasons. (Not to mention all the other drama.)

Come to think of it, one of the many unfortunate aspects of the NHL lockout is that we still don’t know how the Caps will play under new head coach Adam Oates.

Related: Alex Ovechkin ready for offense under Oates