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Do the Washington Capitals even have a system?

Harrison Mooney
Puck Daddy

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One of these days, Ovie. Bang! Zoom! Straight to the moon!

When Dale Hunter replaced Bruce Boudreau as the coach of the Washington Capitals on November 28, 2011, there was some question about whether Hunter, whose 11 years of coaching experience were limited to Ontario Junior hockey, could handle the transition to the NHL.

Capitals' General Manager George McPhee dismissed the concern right away, explaining, "Coaching is coaching." He added, "The same questions were asked of [Boudreau] when he came here, and he had an outstanding record."

But, thus far, the only indication that Hunter's an NHL coach is the fact that his record bears a troubling similarity to the NHL coach he replaced. Since taking over for Boudreau, Hunter is a mediocre 20-19-4, a step backwards from Boudreau's 12-9-1 record at the time of his dismissal.

To some, this might be an indication that the problem was never coaching after all, that the Capitals simply have the wrong personnel mix. But, 43 games into Hunter's tenure, it's still difficult to say exactly how this roster would fare under the new system he was supposed to implement.

According to defenseman Karl Alzner, the Capitals don't really know what it is yet.

During a live interview with Dan Kingerski on Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, Alzner touched on life under Hunter. He noted that Hunter was a great deal quieter than Bruce Boudreau, and that he left a lot to his assistants. Then he added this wrinkle:

"We've changed systems a little bit. We've changed the lineup here and there and called guys up and sent guys down. It's been a lot of trial and error. We're still trying to figure out the one all-around system that seems to work for us."

If I'm a Capitals fan -- heck, if I'm a member of Capitals management -- this is an unnerving statement.

Alzner's quote is innocuous enough. If it's December. But Hunter has been the man behind the bench for over 3 months, and the team is still trying to figure out the system?

And not how to play the system -- what the system is.

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A Capital looks confused

There's absolutely going to be a feeling out period following a coaching transition, and experiments with personnel are to be expected, but you'd think, by now, Hunter would have given the team some idea of who they're supposed to be.

There's hardly time now. The Capitals have 17 games remaining in their season, and they currently sit in 9th place in the East. The Southeast Division appears to have gotten away from them, with the Florida Panthers 5 points clear. All is hardly lost, as the Capitals are 1 point back of the Winnipeg Jets for 8th place with a game in hand, but they're also only 2 points up on the 12th-place Toronto Maple Leafs.

A tumble is not out of the question, especially if things continue the way they have been lately.

Washington has been shut out in two straight contests, both at home, and they're 4-6-0 in their last 10. They're clearly struggling to gain some traction at the worst possible time.

One wonders if they'd be able to find their footing if they knew what they were supposed to be doing. Hunter has failed to install or instil any kind of structure, and the Capitals are simply beginning to flail. If they fail to make the playoffs, I can't see how he's given a second year. Coaching may indeed be coaching, as McPhee said, but good coaching is influential and noticeable, and Hunter's appears to be neither right now.

On the bright side, if he is dismissed, it should be an easy transition to the next guy, since the team won't have to unlearn any systems.

Follow Harrison Mooney on Twitter at @HarrisonMooney

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