At various points this season, Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter has buried veteran players.
He made winger Mike Knuble a regular habitant of the press box. Roman Hamrlik and John Erskine sat out as the NHL trade deadline neared, but GM George McPhee didn’t move them.
So still they sit, wearing street clothes while watching their team play.
Hunter benched goaltender Tomas Vokoun in favor of younger Michael Neuvirth, a player he earlier slammed.
Neuvirth won three consecutive starts, then took a 5-0 strafing from the Devils. Hunter did not yank him, after giving Vokoun the hook in his previous two starts.
“I wanted Neuvy to battle through it,” Hunter said. “He didn’t have a great start so I wanted him to battle through it.”
After that loss, center Jeff Halpern admitted that his team quit. “After the third goal, we just seemed like a deflated team,” he told the Washington Post. “It’s a complete knock on the guys in the room. All of us, myself included, for having absolutely no response.”
Troy Brouwer piled on to the Post: “I don’t think we worked very hard in the third period. I thought we packed it in. We looked like a real timid, beaten-down hockey team. We have to make sure there’s no quit in us ever ’cause nobody is ever out of a game.”
Such comments are a clear indictment of where the Capitals stand with their coach.
Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com summed it up:
Every time they take a step forward they take another step back. And no one seems to know why.
Is there a lack of accountability coming from the coach? From each other? Do they have the right players to execute Hunter's man-to-man system? Is it the right system for the wrong team?
And with 18 games remaining, is it too late in the season to put it all together?