Caps coach preaching defense in DC

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When the Washington Capitals brought in Dale Hunter to replace Bruce Boudreau behind the bench, the hope among many fans was that the team would return to its high-flying ways. However, those fans might be disappointed to learn Hunter’s main focus so far has been defense.

The Washington Post explains, “Creating defensive stability and structure is the foundation that Hunter has sought to build his system upon, with the belief that once the Capitals can protect their own zone, success in the offensive zone will follow.”

Hunter’s early priority isn’t much of a surprise considering the Caps have been one of the worst defensive teams this season. But can they thrive under a “pressure-based” system that demands each player on the ice picks up his own man? (I’ll leave it to you to decide which players might have issues with such a system.)

“The onus is on that individual player to win their battle every time,” Karl Alzner said. “If you don’t win your battle and you get beat then we’re going to have an issue and you hope someone’s going to bail you out – your goalie or a weak side forward – but it’s good this way, it keeps everybody extremely honest. You’ve got to make sure you’re doing your job and winning your job or it’s not going to work.”

In other words, no flying the zone early. No getting caught on the wrong side of the puck. High-percentage plays over high-risk.

“I think we’re really bringing our forwards back and trying to always be a stick length away from the guy so we’re not giving them that time to make a play,” John Erskine said. “I think if we get on the same page with that it will bring our goals against down quite a bit.”

The new system might also help the offense, considering so much offense starts from the back end in the NHL. Teams that move as a five-man unit and provide multiple passing options for the puck-carrier can be tough to defend. But first, the players need to buy in. And that might be Hunter’s biggest challenge.