Jason Arnott isn’t the first person to criticize the Washington Capitals’ perceived lack of commitment to defensive hockey. Honestly, just about any person critiquing the team will focus on the team’s play in their own end during the last few seasons.
Yet sometimes it’s not what someone says, but who is actually uttering those words. Much like instances in which a player might be more receptive to the life lessons from a coach if that gentleman owns a championship ring, young players often lean on veterans in tougher times.
It happened with Bill Guerin and the Pittsburgh Penguins, and from the look of things, it might happen with Arnott and the Capitals. Both players came to those teams via understated trade deadline deals, with each squad hoping that their Stanley Cup winning experience might benefit young, on-the-cusp rosters.
The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg discussed how Arnott’s influence is being felt in the Caps locker room, particularly the emphatic words of center Brooks Laich.
“If it’s somebody else coming in who’s new and just says ‘Well I’m gonna turn everything around here,’ maybe they don’t have the earned respect that Arnie does.So when Arnie says something — ‘Ok, something’s wrong here guys, we’re not gonna win what we want to win unless we fix this specifically’ — players are really gonna listen up and make the changes. And I think he’s done a great, great job of that.”
And so, what specifically has he said?”
“He’s come in and really united the whole group,” Laich said. “[He’s]said ‘Ok listen guys, I know we’re very talented and we’re great with the puck, but if we want to win what we want to win, we have to play on the other side of the puck, we have to play without the puck, we have to play defensively.’ And he’s really helped right the ship in that regard. And I can’t say enough about him.”
Bruce Boudreau is doing an outstanding job of ushering in a greater sense of defensive responsibility in Washington, but there’s only so much a coach can do. The players must also absorb those lessons, so having a guy who’s been through playoff battles can be a valuable asset (even if some might overrate that experience just a bit).
Of course, Arnott didn’t come to the Capitals to be a hard-nosed defensive forward, so it doesn’t hurt that he has been productive (four goals and three assists for seven points in 10 games) in the offensive end either.