Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau has been stuck on 199 career wins for a week now.
It probably feels more like a month.
The 56-year-old native of Toronto is hoping Saturday nights visit to his old stomping grounds ends the Capitals three-game losing streak, secures for him a milestone hes not entirely comfortable talking about, and silences talk of his imminent demise.
Thats the thing about being Bruce Boudreau. In the court of public opinion, he always seems to be one long losing streak away from being on the hot seat.
Forget the fact he had more wins after 300 games (184) than any coach in NHL history. Or that his next victory will make him the fastest to ever reach 200 victories.
Last weekend, Boudreau saw Terry Murray and Barry Trotz, each of whom coached in the Capitals organization, coach their 1,000th NHL games. He couldnt help but wonder what it would be like to achieve that kind of longevity in Washington, where the expectations are so much higher than they are in, say, Nashville.
Im hoping, Boudreau said. Youd like to think you can. Barry has obviously done it. Its walking a tightrope with a lot of individuals. When you find that formula its something you want to keep to yourself.
Hired by the Capitals to replace Glen Hanlon on Nov. 22, 2007, Boudreau has already climbed to seventh on the list of active head coaches tenured with one NHL team, behind Lindy Ruff, Barry Trotz, Claude Julien, Randy Carlyle, Mike Babcock and Alain Vigneault.
He said he believes his four seasons behind an NHL bench has made him a better communicator with his players, a better student of the game and a better coach.
I think I know the players better, he said. I think I know whats going to happen in the course of a game better. I think I know the opposition better. I think I know whats coming better, rather than flying by the seat of my pants. I think you learn from experience.
Considered one of the most affable coaches in the game, Boudreau made a conscious decision over the summer that if his team was going to get past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in his tenure, he would need to be a tougher, more demanding coach.
It started in training camp with what players called the hardest conditioning test theyd ever experienced. It continued when second-year enter Marcus Johansson was benched for the season opener, Mike Knuble was dropped to the fourth line, Jeff Halpern was made a healthy scratch and Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin were benched in crucial parts of the game.
And the players noticed.
This year hes putting his foot down a little more than in the past, said defenseman Karl Alzner, making sure that guys are all accountable and I think thats extremely important.
Hes a big believer in the way you practice is the way youre going to play and hes making sure were practicing harder than we have n the past.
But Boudreau has also learned when to take his foot off the gas. Mired in a three-game losing skid and coming off a poor performance in Winnipeg Thursday night, Boudreau gave his players the day off on Friday, noting the fact they did not get into Toronto until 3:30 a.m. on Friday and that he had skated them hard the week before.
Boudreau said every team in the NHL goes through stretches where they lose five of six or six of 10 games and that all good teams turn corners.
He said he and his assistant coaches Dean Evason and Bob Woods have already identified and corrected the defensive zone breakdowns that have plagued the Capitals during their recent slide and that he expects his team to return to the dominance it showed at the start of the season.
He has so much hockey knowledge that when we do video he can explain every little clip, Alzner said. And hes got a good team with him with Woody ad Deano.
Boudreau said that after 19 years as a head coach hes reached a point in his career where he knows which buttons to push with his players and more importantly when to push them.
You can read the people youre talking to better, so you know when to push and when to pull back, he said. I think those are things you learn as a coach the longer youre behind the bench.