Photo: Justin K. Aller
Bruce Boudreau began the 2011-12 season with his team as a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. In his last two seasons, he followed up a Presidents’ Trophy with an Eastern Conference regular-season title. Now, he had seven straight wins to start the year. A little over a month later, Boudreau, the fastest coach in NHL history to 200 wins, was gone. The man who resurrected hockey in Washington was replaced by two coaches who slowly bled the greatness out of the Capitals.
Just under four years later, Boudreau has found himself in a similar spot. Now the coach of the Anaheim Ducks, he had led his team to within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals the year before. But the start of the 2015-16 season was a catastrophe. His team scored 10 goals in the entire month of October. They finished the month with a single victory. Boudreau didn’t have any answers.
“I don’t know,” he said after his team threw away another game on October 27. “I’m sort of at a loss right now.”
But due to his previous success, Ducks general manager Bob Murray expressed confidence Boudreau would find a solution.
“I’m going to be patient,” Murray said in a statement on October 30.
But two months later, little had changed. On Christmas, the Ducks had the second fewest points in the National Hockey League, just one more than the Columbus Blue Jackets. With star players Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf struggling to score, Boudreau, known for his high-flying offenses, switched to a shutdown defensive system. Boudreau had tried something similar during is last days in Washington in a desperate attempt to save his job. This time it worked.
After 82 games, Ducks finished the regular-season with the lowest goals against average in the league (2.29), as well the best penalty kill (87.2 percent) and power play (23.1 percent). No team had topped the league in all three categories since 1985. Their main goaltenders, John Gibson and Frederik Andersen, won Jennings Trophy as the goalies with minimum of 25 games player on the team with the fewest goals scored against.
“[It was] a really fun thing to be part of, turning it around like that,” Anderson said.
Eventually, the offense revived itself and Perry ended up ninth in the league in goals, just behind Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos. The Ducks finished with 103 points, tied with for fifth in the league with the Chicago Blackhawks, the 2015 Stanley Cup champions, and the Florida Panthers.
“You got to keep going every day,” Perry said of his team’s climb from the cellar. “You got to keep pushing.”
On the last day of the regular season, the Ducks took home a 2-0 win to win the leap over the LA Kings for the Pacific Division crown.
“We kind of had to scratch and claw to get this division,” defenseman Cam Fowler said. “Any time you’re able to win the division it’s a heck of an accomplishment. With what we’ve gone through this year and kind of the ups and downs that we’ve had, this one has a little more meaning to me. It certainly means a lot to us to be able to win this one.”
In his nine seasons as an NHL coach, Boudreau has eight division titles. The first four came with Caps. With Sunday’s win, he captured his fourth straight with Anaheim — clinching it in front of the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center.
“He’s got a lot of memories here,” Perry said. “He did a lot of good things here. For us to come back here and get the big win for him, it’s great.”
Boudreau, however, looks back on his time with the Capitals fondly.
“I always love coming back here, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not like ‘Here we go. I’m showing you guys,’” the coach said. “There’s no way that comes into play.”
Just hours before, Boudreau heaped praise on his former team, marveling at what the organization and his former players have accomplished, starting first with Braden Holtby, the goaltender who tied Martin Brodeur for the most wins in a single-season the night before.
“You could see it, that he was going to be great,” Boudreau said. “When he was here as a 17-year-old or 18-year-old after he got drafted, for the summer camp, we projected him better than [Semyon] Varlamov and [Michal] Neuvirth at that point. He just had a lot going for him, winning [the Calder Cup] in Hershey. He’s just getting better every year. Now instead of a boy, he looks just like a young man with a lot of confidence. Congratulations to him. I’m happy for him.”
Holtby’s play is a significant reason the Capitals ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy this season, which is awarded to the team with the most points at the end of the season. The Capitals will add that banner to one from 2011, when the franchise first accomplished the feat less than two and a half years into Boudreau’s NHL coaching career.
“They’re ready right now,” Boudreau said of Capitals’ chances in the playoffs. “When we won the Presidents’ Trophy, they were young, and sometimes when you’re young, you think you’ve got the world by the tail and everything is going to happen great. These guys have gone through some rough times since that time and so they know what they’re doing. They’ve grown, matured. All of them — from Nicky to Marcus to Holtby. All of these guys. They’re ready to have their turn.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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