By Rodger M. Wood
Even though they’re only a modest 3 – 3 W- L under his tenure, Coach Hunter has pushed the right buttons to jump start the Caps onto a winning streak the past two games at Ottawa 5-3 and home with Toronto 4-2.
Midway through the second period of the Ottawa game, Caps down 3-1, he started triple – shifting Alex Ovechkin, effectively communicating to the super star he could bring the team back to the victory circle.
Skating fast and hitting hard the past two games, using different moves and shots to break a dry spell by scoring a goal, becoming a playmaker on offense with three assists, and getting back to help the defense with back checking, Ovie may have been restored to the “great one” again.
Whether the reason was injury, poor play, or a combination of both, Hunter kept Alexander Semin and Roman Hamrlik out a couple games, with the results being a rejuvenated forward and defensemen when both returned to the ice last game against Toronto.
When Semin returned, Hunter put him back on his old line with Niklaus Backstrom and Ovechkin and the resulting high powered line scored a goal and three assists their first game back together.
Hunter has kept Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward on the same line, and the trio has rewarded him by shutting down the opposition’s top line and racking up the points.
In the six games under Hunter, Laich has scored three goals and three assists, Ward, two assists, and Chimera, two goals and an assist and Chimera has become the Caps top goal scorer with 11.
With Mike Green still out of the lineup, Hunter has given Dmitry Orloff and John Carlson more playing time. In the last four games against Toronto, Ottawa, Florida, and Ottawa, Orloff has assisted on two goals, and Carlson has scored a goal and seven assists.
Until last game, the Caps power play hadn’t produce a goal in the last 17 power play opportunities, but looking like Bobby Orr against Toronto, defenseman Dennis Wideman scored two power play goals, and forwards Nicklaus Backstrom and Brooks Laich one each to improve that statistic quickly.
Hunter was rewarded for giving John Erskine a regular shift on defense when Erskine punished Aaron Asham with three hard rights to the head for taking Jay Beagle out of the lineup the past 16 games with a knockout punch in the first Pittsburgh game, and ridiculing him in the battle scene afterwards.
It looks promising that Hunter has the Caps on the right road with some good coaching moves and effective few words motivational talents, but the Caps aren’t in the playoffs yet.
They have another big test coming up Tuesday when they face the Broad Street Bullies at the Verizon Center.