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Caps on playing in the Hunter era

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Caps on playing in the Hunter era

After holding the title of Capitals head coach for 169 days or 60 regular season games and 14 tightly fought playoff battles, Dale Hunter's players were surprised to hear that their bench boss would not be returning. After a meeting with Hunter, Caps general manager George McPhee announced just two days after the Caps' season ended that Hunter had decided to return to his home in London, Ontario for family reasons.

Some players, who saw their careers blossom under Hunter's reign, sounded mournful.

Mike Green:
"It's disappointing. It's sad, I think. The transformation of this hockey club stems from him and you just have to respect the guy. He came into this team, hasn't strayed away from his game plan and we all respect him as a coach and we're sad to see him go."

Brooks Laich:
"We understand his reasons for going back. I just had a short chat with him and shook his hand and asked him if there's anything I can do to convince him to stay. He was great. I was sort of shocked when I found out but he will be missed I really learned a lot from him and really valued the effort he put in.

"I was (surprised) because I thought he really enjoyed it. He's a capital through and through he loved being around the rink he loved being around the guys --you could tell. He was a hockey player. I understand his motives for leaving and I'd never question that he's got family and that's going to trump anything that we have going here."

Niklas Backstrom:
"It kind of sucks, actually. He was a great coach and he brought a system that I think really worked and we played good hockey in the playoffs and he's done so many good things for this team. Ireally wanted to see him back next year."

Jay Beagle:
"He did such a great job of changing our system and changing the way we all thought about the game. His stepping down was kind of a shock to me and I also loved him as a coach. It wasn't what I wanted to hear. I'm grateful for the opportunity he gave me and owe him a lot."

Karl Alzner:
"It surprised me a fair bit. I didn't know what to expect, I knew it was a possibility but I think it's taken a lot of guys by surprise. It's really unfortunate because he was very very very well-liked and everybody thinks that what he's taught us and how he taught us is very valuable so it's tough to see a guy like that not be back, but I mean everybody has their own reasons and there's nothing we can do about it.

"His style was something that I really liked and it was easy for me to understand...it's upsetting because i was really happy with everything."

Others respectfully spoke of the awkward growing pains --and diminished roles-- some experienced in Hunter's system. Once again, Alex Ovechkin's ice time was a major theme --and not for direct questions from the media about it.

Troy Brouwer:
"Whether or not you're happy that's how the team is playing and that's how you're going to have to play to have the team be successful.

"I thought Alex Ovechkin's minutes were being determined by the scores and how the games played out. It had nothing to do with benching him. It's just the style of coaching that dale wanted to play."

Alzner:
"He made everybody extremely accountable. It's not like he singled guys out or yelled at anybody. He did it by who played, what lines, stuff like that. He made sure that the guys who were playing extremely hard were going to get a ton of minutes. You saw guys like Beags (Jay Beagle) and Hendy (Matt Hendricks) and those guys like that get as much ice as they did. You got the exact same thing every night. So he made everybody open and really understand what his vision was so when everybody's clear on the ice, you're usually clear off the ice too."

All seemed to agree however: Hunter changed the Capitals for the better.

Green:
"I think there was a lot of grey area before on how we need to play as a hockey club, too much pressure on individuals and now we know how to play as a hockey team and that's going to help us down the road."

Laich:
"He taught us as much about leadership and team aspect, and respect amongst players and trust in teammates as he did about hockey. It's like having another veteran in the locker room. He was great. He changed the culture around here a little bit, which the rest of us really enjoyed.

"He had such a great influence. There were some things culture-wise that had to be adjusted a little bit in order for our team to succeed, I believe."

Matt Hendricks:
"I know for myself he gave me confidence. He gave me the ability to play more, the opportunity to play more, and with that I gained confidence in myself. I gained confidence in my game. As a team I think that went all the way through the line up ... I think the way that he got us to play as a group is something that we need to focus on a lot in the room ... I think as we came together we played our best hockey."

Jeff Halpern:
"I thought Dale got a lot of really good messages across with this team and did a lot of things that this team needed as far as a commitment in certain areas of the game, whether it was defensively. The word accountable was kind of beaten to death at the beginning of this year but I think he got it to the point where everyone expected a certain style of play from each other and I think that was the best imprint he made on this team.

"Dale stuck to his personality and he coached his way and I think he treated everyone pretty much the same."

Braden Holtby:
"He gave everyone a chance to figure things out on their own: to look inside yourself and figure out what you need to do in order to be successful. There's usually a lot of pressure put on to guys through coaches and to figure things out quick. I think he was very patient and that attributes to his career and his playing career."
Alzner:
"He really transformed this team into a team that works extremely hard, is very honest and one that I think other teams don't like playing against...he put this team on a very good path and hopefully we can continue down that road next year."

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Morrissey avoids suspension for Oshie body slam in a decision that makes little sense

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Morrissey avoids suspension for Oshie body slam in a decision that makes little sense

The Department of Player Safety announced Thursday that Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey was fined $8,467.74 for his body slam of T.J. Oshie in Wednesday’s game. It is a punishment that falls well short of the standard the DPS itself set earlier this season.

Late in Wednesday’s game between the Caps and Jets, Oshie skated to the corner of the offensive zone after the puck while locked in a physical battle with Morrissey. Morrissey checked Oshie into the boards, then, as he was falling back, Morrissey slammed Oshie down to the ice. Oshie appeared to be dazed after the play which is troubling given his history of concussions.

There is nothing wrong with the initial hit. Both players were battling for the puck making Oshie eligible to be hit. The problem is after the hit when Morrissey slams him to the ice afterward, which is unnecessary and dangerous.

Oh, c’mon, you may be saying, Morrissey was just finishing his check! That’s not an argument anymore considering the DPS already suspended a player for doing the exact same thing earlier this season when Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson slammed Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson to the ice. Matheson was suspended two games for the play.

Matheson’s suspension was a matter of some debate within the hockey community not just because some argued Matheson was finishing his check on a hockey play, but because it was made to look worse by the fact that Pettersson is only 176 pounds, nearly 20 pounds lighter than Matheson. The DPS didn’t buy it and Matheson was suspended.

If you compare the Morrissey and the Matheson hits, they are very similar. Matheson hits Pettersson with a legal check, just as Morrissey did with Oshie. Matheson then slammed Pettersson to the ice after the initial check, just as Morrissey did with Oshie. One can quibble somewhat with the fact that Petterrsson’s skates came off the ice making the throw down more violent, but the two plays are similar enough that, in my opinion, it is fair to compare them and the corresponding punishment. In fact, one could easily argue that the Morrissey hit is worse considering he and Oshie are both listed as 195 pounds. Oshie didn’t go down to the ice because of a size disparity, Morrissey had to physically slam him down.

In addition, Morrissey is considered a repeat offender after getting suspended in the 2018 playoffs for a crosscheck to Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal. To be fair, being a repeat offender is not supposed to affect the DPS’s decision on whether a play is worthy of a suspension or not, it is only meant to be taken into consideration when determining the length of a suspension.

But the remains that the DPS was presented with two very similar plays within one month of each other and came up with two completely different punishments. That is more than a little head scratching.

The DPS has one of the toughest jobs in hockey. No matter what they do, most people are going to be unhappy with the decisions they make. It’s the nature of the job when it comes to determining supplemental discipline. Having said that, the one thing people should be able to expect from the DPS is consistency. The Morrissey hit on Oshie seemed like a slam-dunk considering a very similar play happened a month before and resulted in a two-game suspension.

But hey, Caps fans can at least take comfort in the fact that Morrissey was issued the maximum fine allowed by the CBA. So there’s that.

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Capitals prospect report: Axel Jonsson-Fjallby goes home

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Capitals prospect report: Axel Jonsson-Fjallby goes home

Early in October, reports began popping up saying Axel Jonsson-Fjallby was headed back to his native Sweden to play for Djurgardens IF in the SHL. Those reports were refuted by the team which said that he remained in Hershey and had no plans to return to Sweden at that time.

Just over a month later and Jonsson-Fjallby’s move back to Sweden is official. On Tuesday, the Capitals announced he had been loaned to Djurgardens IF.

Jonsson-Fjallby scored two goals and three points in 15 games with the Bears.

While Jonsson-Fjallby was technically loaned by the Caps, it seems clear going back to Sweden was his decision. Capitals Outsider quotes a Bears spokesperson saying, “We are obviously disappointed, but it was Axel’s contractual right.”

To be fair, Jonsson-Fjallby was adjusting to a new country. That’s difficult. You do not know what a player’s specific situation is when it comes to family or how he is adjusting to living in a new place. Having said that, this was not a good move in terms of his NHL career.

Adjusting to the North American game takes time. Going back to Sweden to play the European game obviously delays that transition.

Not every player has to go to the AHL to adjust. Evgeny Kuznetsov was talented enough that the Caps were willing to bring him along straight from the KHL to the bottom six in the NHL as he adjusted and developed. Jonsson-Fjallby, however, is not Kuznetsov.

When Jonsson-Fjallby is finally ready to return to North America, he will now have to start the process of adjusting to the North American game again, putting him behind all the players in the system that are there now.

He may feel like it is the right move to return home personally, but in terms of his hockey career, this was a step in the wrong direction.

Other prospect notes:

  • Jonas Siegenthaler made his NHL debut on Friday with both Brooks Orpik and John Carlson out with injuries. He was impressive in his first game playing alongside Madison Bowey. He played in his second game on Wednesday which ties him for the franchise lead in games played by a Swiss-born player. He remains with the Caps on their current road trip.
  • llya Samsonov started in both of Hershey’s games over the weekend with Vitek Vanecek still out with an upper-body injury. Samsonov won one of those two games bringing his record for the season to 3-5.
  • Nathan Walker returned to Hershey after the Caps placed him on waivers. He scored in his very first game back on Saturday against Springfield. He also got into a fight in his second game back on Sunday.
  • Riley Barber had no goals in the first six games of the season. Now he has five in the past seven. Over the weekend, Barber recorded a goal and an assist in both of Hershey’s games. He now leads the team in points with 11 and sits third in goals behind Liam O’Brien (7) and Mike Sgarbossa (6).
  • Tyler Lewington has racked up 454 career penalty minutes with Hershey, passing Don Cherry who had 424 while with the Bears. He currently sits second in the AHL in penalty minutes with 54. A lot of fans like Lewington because he is not afraid to drop the gloves, but not all of those minutes are from fighting. Lewington also leads the league in minor penalties with 12.
  • With his goal Friday in a win over Rensselaer, Chase Priskie became Quinnipiac’s all-time leading scorer among defensemen with 29 goals. “It’s great to be in the record books, but at the same time it’s the players that I’ve been able to play with for the last four years,” Priskie said. “Without them, a lot of those goals don’t happen and I can’t give enough praise to the guys I’ve been able to play with that have been able to get me the puck in the right situations. I’ve been able to do the easy part. I just try to come in and do whatever I can to help the team win.”

 

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