Boudreau makes sure Capitals' break is no breeze

Coach keeps team active during layoff for Olympics

February 28, 2010|By Mark Giannotto | The Washington Post

ARLINGTON, Va. — — Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau could sense his players getting bored and tired during Thursday's practice, so instead of barking instructions as he had throughout the hourlong session, he decided to give them an incentive.

"Don't fall asleep," he yelled to the 18 players on the ice as they continued a neutral-zone drill at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington. "We've only got 10 minutes left."

Boudreau and his staff have gone back to the basics with training camp-style practices this week, emphasizing systems and conditioning before the final 20-game stretch of the Capitals' regular season picks up Wednesday at Buffalo. It's Boudreau's whistle, though, that has been the central authority, stopping and restarting play when the coach is compelled to correct something he sees wrong. And similar to tedious drills in the youth leagues, keeping the players' attention might be the hardest part.

"There's always guys that go, 'Huh, what did he just say?' " veteran Mike Knuble said. "You're thinking about what you're going to have for lunch or something that happened this morning or thinking about your day. But it's not like they're introducing new stuff all the time, so you just ask your buddy."

To their credit, the Capitals see the benefit of such mundane practices considering the way they finished up before the Olympic break. After winning a franchise-record 14 consecutive games, Washington faltered to three straight losses while giving up 15 goals. After a day off Saturday, Olympians Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tomas Fleischmann - all eliminated in Wednesday's quarterfinal games - are expected to rejoin the team today, when the focus moves to defensive-zone play.

"We're kind of doing a review right now," said forward Matt Bradley, dripping with sweat after Boudreau closed practice with wind sprints across the width of the ice.

Before he had his players hunched over gasping for air, though, Boudreau decided to reward them by holding a contest. Separated into two teams for a shootout drill, each player had to sprint to mid-ice before trying to score a breakaway goal. A goal meant a seat on the bench; a miss meant more skating. When the drill ended 10 minutes later, defenseman Tom Poti and Knuble - both on the same team - still hadn't gotten a puck past goalie Semyon Varlamov, who had just returned Thursday from the Vancouver Games (and was assigned to Hershey of the American Hockey League on Saturday), prompting playful jeers from their teammates.

"Just us tired old guys," Poti joked. "A lot of us had 10 days off, [during] which we did nothing ... and we're paying for it now, but it's going to help us down the stretch."

Tips from Tretiak
Varlamov joined the team midway through practice once his gear arrived from British Columbia. The 21-year-old was Russia's third-string goalie behind Ilya Bryzgalov and Evgeni Nabokov and didn't make an appearance. He did, however, speak with Russian goaltending legend Vladislav Tretiak regularly, with both of them in the press box watching Russia's four games.

"Every game we sit together and watch the game," Varlamov said. "We're talking about everything. We're talking about Russian goalies, how guys play. We're talking about every other good goalie. ... I learn how guys play in the Olympics, I watch many games. It was a good experience."

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