When the Washington Capitals hired Spencer Carbery as their new head coach in May, the team not only brought a talented organizational coach back home, but they also secured the services of one of the brightest young minds in hockey.
Now, after missing the playoffs for the first time in nine years under Peter Laviolette, the Capitals will look to Carbery to bring foundational change to the team. Not only will the 41-year-old bench boss be tasked with improving the Capitals’ overall play, but he’ll also be trying to support Alex Ovechkin in his chase of Wayne Gretzky’s goals record.
In an interview with NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti, Carbery spoke in generalities about some of the changes he planned to make to the club. And it sounds like next season’s Capitals will look to play a lot quicker and have a far different look at five-on-five.
“Well, No. 1, right out of the gate, we’re going to make some structural adjustments to our game and that is going to be priority No. 1 implementing those, getting everybody on the same page as quickly as possible with those, and then our identity as a team,” Carbery said. “And that goes more into all of areas of our five-on-five game of how we are going to play and what that looks like on a shift-by-shift basis, the competitiveness, the connectiveness with our group. That is kind of the identity portion that I call it.
“We’re going to make a few alterations to our neutral-zone play, a couple things in the defensive zone, and then also some of our O-zone tactics and forecheck,” he continued. “We’ll make a few subtle adjustments there which aren’t going to be massive changes but little tweaks that are going to be important to highlight and make sure everybody is on the same page in the details of it.”
The Capitals’ roster in 2022-23 was one of the oldest in the NHL, and the team struggled mightily against some of the quickest and best five-on-five teams in the league. The Caps went a combined 0-9-1 against the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Colorado Avalanche, and Minnesota Wild, being out-scored 34-19 in those 10 games.
While Peter Laviolette looked to slow things down and increase play along the wall, Carbery wants the Caps to do things quicker everywhere.
“Pace is the word that I’ll use a lot,” Carbery said. “And it’s with and without the puck us just being a little bit quicker in all three zones not just with our movement, meaning our skating and us moving quicker up the ice or back into our defensive zone, but that’s our puck movement, that’s our decision making, that’s our reads. It’s just more pace to all of those things which will make us be able to play at a higher pace with and without the puck.”
That focus on speed could further indicate that several young players from the 2023 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears may make the next step in 2023-24. As early as his introductory press conference in June, Carbery emphasized his desire to add developing players to his NHL roster.
“We have a highly motivated group of veteran players and we have also have a group of young players,” he said then. “It’s my job to bring along [those young players] and integrate them into that group. That, to me, is exciting.”
Carbery told Gulitti that his systems will be informed from his three seasons with the Hershey Bears and his last two years with the Toronto Maple Leafs as an assistant coach, where he helped lead the team’s power play. He’s also planning to use strategies that will work best with a Capitals team that has a combination of skill and size with players like Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
“Part of it is stuff that I’ve used in the past. Part of it is stuff that I’ve taken from Toronto and used there. So it will be a combination of both, the reason being, and this is probably the important point of it, is having sat back and looked, this wasn’t just stuff that I said, ‘We have to do this, this and this because this is the way that I coach.’ It’s more so of a standpoint of this is our group.
“What (structure) do we think will fit best with our group? What are we comfortable teaching? What are my beliefs as a coach and, even some of our assistant coaches, what do we feel strongly about? And then, what makes sense for our group? Coming to those decisions we’ve solidified (them) and now we just need to implement.”
Carbery will have his first opportunity to start installing his new systems and strategies on September 20 — the first day of training camp.
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
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