Bruce Boudreau never wanted to leave Washington.
He offers this information matter-of-factly, even though he’s thoroughly enjoying his time as Anaheim Ducks head coach and the incredible 12-2-1 start they’ve had this season –14 points ahead of his old team back East.
“I’m trying to get over it. I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t watch what they do,” said Boudreau on Tuesday.
“Not for where they are; but you build relationships with some players that you want to see successful all the time and with fans.”
Boudreau’s time with the Capitals ended on Nov. 28, 2011, when he was fired and replaced by Dale Hunter. Japers’ Rink has a great chronicle of where it may have all gone wrong; needless to say, Washington has never been able to regain the momentum and undeniable spark of those early Boudreau teams.
Neither has the Capitals’ captain, to the point where some are asking if Alex Ovechkin is even still considered a superstar.
“He’s a superstar,” said Boudreau. “The bottom line is that anybody that wins the Hart Trophy two years in a row and is voted the best player in the world by his peers three years in a row, he’s a star. People like to attack him, when he’s not scoring at the rate they want him to score at. He still is the most feared player coming down on you in the League.”
If the Western Conference didn’t fear Boudreau’s Ducks before the season – and many predictions had them missing the playoffs – it may fear them now.
Their plus-14 goal differential is tied for second best in the NHL behind Chicago, who hasn’t lost in regulation yet. Teemu Selanne has 15 points in 15 games. Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth may give Anaheim the best goaltending battery in the conference this season.
We spoke with Boudreau about the surging Ducks; Ryan Getzlaf’s leadership; Bobby Ryan on the trading block; Cam Fowler vs. Mike Green; Francois Beauchemin for the Norris; Selanne’s ageless domination; and a little bit about Boudreau’s affinity for pro wrestling.
But first, the coach wanted to set the record straight about his status as a “run and gun” coach.
There’s been a perception that the change from Randy Carlyle to you has made the difference here, stylistically. That the shackles were taken off these players offensively and now they’re thriving. Do you buy that juxtaposition?
BOUDREAU: That’s a media [creation]. We’re a pretty defensive minded team.
We’re almost getting offended these days when they say we’re ‘Boudreau’s run-and-gun’ team. We’re not, at all.
In Washington, we used the players we had. When we were scoring, we’d win 6-3. When we weren’t scoring, we’d become the best defense team in the League. It wasn’t that we couldn’t play defense. We preached it all the time.
The guys know they have to play strong without the puck, and when we have the puck they have to try and score. I don’t see the big deal, and why anybody makes a big deal about it.
So if you don’t play ‘run and gun’, is that just a reputation that you earned early with the Capitals that’s been tough to shake?
Evidently. I haven’t shaken it.
I think because we led the League in goals by so many that people thought we were an offensive machine. Our power play was at 26 percent that year. The next year, we couldn’t score. And then we changed our whole way of thinking. From Dec. 5 on, we became the best defensive team in the League.
People, because they see who’s on your team, they think you’re an offensive team.
Has there been anything that’s really surprised you about this team?
Before every season, you dream of starting out really good. Those are the expectations. They you look at the rest of the League and you’re going, ‘Wow, this is a pretty good start.’
I didn’t know what kind of team we had, because there were so many guys I hadn’t see play before. I hadn’t seen Viktor Fasth. I’d never seen Sheldon Souray. Daniel Winnik, I didn’t remember him too much. We knew our minor league guys were really good in the minors, but we didn’t know how they were.
Viktor Fasth’s start to this season has been extraordinary for a rookie. We keep wanting to call him a “kid”, but he’s not. Is being a 30 year old an essential part of his brilliant start?
Well, I think that none of it has overwhelmed him. I think a young guy might get caught up in the whole thing. He seems to be very grounded, which is great.
Have you thought about how you’re juggling him and Jonas Hiller? Has his emergence made life more complicated or happy for you?
I think “happy” is a good word. No matter who you choose, you’re getting somebody good in there. It makes it complicated. You start really thinking about how you’re going to do this, and then you overthink it – did he practice good on Friday to play Saturday? Rather than just saying ‘you’re going to start here, and you’re going to start here.’
Jonas earned the No. 1 goalie position [last season]. At the start of the season, we were thinking Jonas would play 40 games.
Is that still the plan?
Well, I think we’ll deviate from that a bit, considering Fasth as already been in nine [games].
What’s been your reaction to Ryan Getzlaf, as a captain?
He takes the job seriously. Sometimes he overthinks the role. This year, he’s done a great job of leading by example on the ice. That’s probably the best way to be a captain: Lead on the ice, not just talk.
He’s good with the players, a good go-between – me and him chat a lot. But on the ice, he practices what he preaches.
Sometimes you sit there and worry. ‘I’m the captain: Should I do this or do that?’ Instead of just going out there and having the situations present themselves to you. He did that a little bit last year when I first came, and he’s maturing as he goes. Every day.
Corey Perry is a guy who plays on the edge. Have you reined him in at all since coming to Anaheim?
I don’t want to rein it in too much. He’s great the way he is. He needs to play with that edge to be a star. When he doesn’t … well, it’s just not Corey Perry.
Last summer, things got a little weird with Bobby Ryan, and all those conversations about him being on the trading block.
You’re making a mountain out of a molehill. We haven’t talked trade with Bobby Ryan. He hasn’t asked about it from us, since before I got here. It’s not even an issue.
If you had to guess, how many more years could Teemu Selanne play?
[Laughs] Chelios played until he was 48. I kinda believe that Teemu takes care of himself better than Chris did.
I can’t even imagine doing that at 42. He’s the greatest athlete for his age in the world today, in any sport.
I can’t think of any athlete doing what he’s doing at his age at the highest level. In baseball, you might get the odd relief pitcher or knuckleball pitcher. In football, there’s no body that age. In tennis there’s nobody. In basketball, there’s nobody that age. I don’t know what’s going on overseas – is Pele still playing?
Francois Beauchemin is having an incredible season, but is never in the conversation about the Norris Trophy or top defensemen in the League. Why is that?
He’s not a high profile guy. Never has been. He’s always been part of a supporting cast.
When he was in Toronto, it wasn’t a great situation for him. Media remember what they last saw of him, so they’ll never put him in that category.
Unlike the guys that get that award, that are usually flashy offensively, he does everything for us. He plays the most minutes, he blocks shots, he’s strong down low. I don’t know if he fulfills the [Norris] criteria, but he’s been very solid for us.
What has Sheldon Souray shown you this year?
I don’t know what my expectations were. Two years ago, he was in Hershey [in the AHL]. A year ago, he started out great in Dallas and tapered off a little bit. But Sheldon’s been a pleasant surprise. Probably the most pleasant surprise for me.
Can you draw any comparisons between Cam Fowler and Mike Green, who had his best seasons with the Washington Capitals when you were his coach?
I don’t know … they’re both great skaters. I think Mike knows where the holes are a little bit better. Cam’s still learning those ropes a little bit. When to jump.
Cam, believe it or not, is a little more defense oriented while Mike would always jump into the play. Cam’s a little more hesitant to do that.
Fowler will be in Anaheim for quite some time, but the perception is that the window might be closing for this group. Getzlaf and Perry are free agents. Selanne might be near the end. Do you have a sense of that urgency, or is that off the radar?
Completely off the radar. I’m concerned about winning this year.
You take every team in the NHL, and there might be two whose rosters are pretty well intact in the next season. So I take it one game at a time.
Finally, I know you’re a big pro wrestling fan, as am I. What, sir, is your favorite finishing move of all-time?
[Laughs] Well, quite frankly, being a big Bret Hart fan, it would be the Sharpshooter. It’s sort of the same thing that Chris Jericho has and a lot of other guys. But that would have been the one I’d like to see.
Well, they’re really just modified Boston Crabs.
They’re better than a lot of the other finishing moves, I’ll tell you that much.
I’ve never practiced to see if I could get somebody in that move, to see if it would hurt.
I totally practiced the figure-four leg lock when I was a kid. Ric Flair style. I think you could really [expletive] up an ankle with the figure-four.
I agree. There used to be a guy before Flair named Johnny Powers, and he called it the Power Lock, and I know it’s exactly what the figure-four is. When you’re 9 years old and you’re watching this and you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s a killer move.’
What I never believed was that by rolling on your stomach, you could reverse the pain of the figure-four back onto the guy that’s giving it to you.
[Laughs] I’m sure, like anything they do, it’s painful. I wouldn’t even want to try anything they do. I fall down on the ice and it’s painful. I can’t imagine jumping off the ropes and landing on somebody, what it would do.