Hunter's Ironman Streak Ends
Nothing has been more consistent for the Washington Capitals than
Dale Hunter putting his No. 32 jersey on his shoulders before the
start of every game.
He was the only Capital to play in each game for the last three
years. But age has caught up to the 38-year-old captain, so
coach Ron Wilson decided to give Hunter a rest Dec. 12 at San
Jose, ending the ironman streak at 306 games.
"It was the third game in four nights," Wilson told The
Washington Post. "It's not a reflection on Dale Hunter. We had to
get a little more youth in the lineup, a little more jump, and we
were looking for a chance to get him a well-deserved rest.
Without an injury or something, you don't like to pull a guy like
that out, but Hunts, even by his own admission, has struggled a
little bit recently."
Hunter struggling? He is in the midst of his worst season in his
19-year career. In 27 games, Hunter has no goals, while
collecting only one assist. Since he isn't scoring, Hunter is
being relied on for his defensive ability. But even that aspect
of his game is lacking, which is evident with a plus/minus of -7.
The rugged captain has lost a few steps with age, and
unfortunately, it's beginning to show.
Hunter's most successful trait is his leadership. Even when he
was a healthy scratch in San Jose, Wilson still found a way to
use him during the game. Hunter spent the night behind the bench
as an assistant coach for the first time in his career, losing
his debut, 2-1. He returned to the coaching ranks two games later
in Pittsburgh, where he was again a healthy scratch. The team
lost, 3-0, dropping Hunter's coaching record to 0-2-0.
Caps Look for Offense in IHL
With the troops depleted (seven injured forwards), the Capitals'
offense has plummeted to last in the National Hockey League.
Washington has only lit the lamp 60 times. Right wing Peter
Bondra leads the team with 12 goals, but from there, scoring is
hard to find. Center/left wing Joe Juneau and center Adam Oates,
who has missed the last nine games, each have six goals. From
there, the scoring list reads like a game of polo - few and far
Since goals from Washington have not been plentiful - the
Capitals have been shut out in four of their last 10 games -
general manager George McPhee tapped into a talent pool that
other teams have ignored throughout the years: The International
Hockey League. The players? Long Beach's Patrik Augusta and Las
Vegas' Patrice Lefebvre. Both players had no experience at the
Augusta played two games against Anaheim and San Jose before
being assigned to Washington's farm club in Portland, Maine
(AHL). The Capitals, however, expect more from Lefebvre, who was
scouted by George McPhee last week when the team held a mini-camp
in Las Vegas. Lefebvre was signed before the Pittsburgh game.
Lefebvre, 31, stands at five-foot-five and is the shortest player
in the NHL. Even Calgary's Theoren Fleury towers above Lefebvre.
But don't let Lefebvre's size fool you. He has the tools needed
to succeed in the NHL. He proved that last season by winning the
IHL's MVP award as a member of the Las Vegas Thunder. Now, he's
ecstatic to finally get a chance to prove his wares with the
"I can't tell you what this means to me because I'm in a complete
state of shock and I can barely talk," Lefebvre told the Las
Vegas Review-Journal. "I am amazed, I'm thrilled, I'm shocked,
I'm baffled. I'm so happy, I could cry. I've dreamed of playing
in the NHL my whole life. I used to think about it so much, and
to think I'm finally going to get a chance, at my age and after
all these years, it's overwhelming."
No Pressure for Kolzig
Goaltender Olie Kolzig realizes he cannot win games all by
himself. His play will plummet if he thinks he needs a shutout to
give his team a chance to win every game. These thoughts crept
into his head last month after signing a new four-year, $12
million contract. As a result of this self-given pressure, he
Fortunately, the Capitals playoff hero has worked his way out of
a slump and is back to playing good hockey. He has kept each game
close, making him one of the few Capitals who cannot be blamed
for the team's pitiful season.
"To play at that kind of level like I did in the playoffs is
tough to maintain over 82 games," Kolzig said in Las Vegas. "I
just want to play - right now - a consistent game. The last few
weeks, I've been doing that.
"My job is to just give the guys a chance to win. You're not
gonna get a shutout every game. As long as you keep it close and
you make the big save for the guys to give them a boost, that's
all you can do. The guys in front have to score. You win as a
team and lose as a team, so I've learned in the last couple of
weeks not to put too much pressure on myself - just to play