The Capitals spent most of the regular season adjusting to coach Dale Hunter's demands -- block shots, play tight defensively, don't take any unnecessary risks. It wasn't pretty hockey, and it wasn't exactly the style that his star players loved, but it was effective as Washington upset No. 2 seed Boston in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and almost took out the top-seeded New York Rangers in the second round.
"It's kind of a stupid saying, but someone said it, and it's perfect: You've got to crack a couple eggs to make an omelet," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "That's exactly what happened. [Hunter] kind of broke things down until we started to build it up."
But Hunter said Monday he won't return next season. Can that progress continue under a new coach, who could have his own vision of how to play the game? According to general manager George McPhee, the organization will make any necessary roster changes without necessarily tailoring them to a prospective coach, who might not be in place until the NHL draft next month.
"Right now the whole focus for us is let's process what we have to do with the team to make them really good again next year and get ready for the draft," McPhee said. "And then if something happens in the meantime with a coach, that'll be fine."
But no matter what style the new coach employs, multiple Caps players said they need to hew to the lessons Hunter taught them about how to win in the playoffs, a harder brand of hockey played against good defensive teams who extract a physical price on the opponent. Washington excelled at that game this spring with 13 of its 14 postseason contests decided by a single goal. Few players want to abandon Hunter's basic concepts completely.
"I know it's a long summer here, but hopefully guys remember that to win in the playoffs you have to sacrifice, block shots, do the right things," forward Troy Brouwer said. "That's just what [Hunter] tried to instill in us the entire time he was here and the entire stretch down the playoffs."