It was a step, everyone agreed, in the right direction.
The Capitals generated very little offense in Dale Hunters NHL coaching debut Tuesday night, managing just 19 shots in a 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues at the Verizon Center.
But they also held their opponent to under three goals for the first time since Nov. 11, a span of nine games.
We did what he asked us to do, said Alex Ovechkin, who picked up an assist on Nicklas Backstroms goal, and I think if we are going to play the same way we are going to get some success.
For now, Hunter will need to wait at least until Thursday night for his first victory as an NHL coach. That opportunity will come when Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Capitals.
The loss was the Capitals third straight and dropped them to 3-8-1 in their last 12 games.
Afterward, Hunter found some silver linings in the loss.
I thought the guys worked hard tonight, Hunter said. It was a tight game. A couple breakdowns went in the net, but we had some chances.
Early in the game, the Capitals showed a video montage of Hunter from his playing days complete with his 1988 series-clinching playoff goal against the Flyers and Alex Ovechkin was seen tapping his stick on the boards in appreciation.
The Caps gave Hunter his first lead as an NHL coach 10:15 into the game on Nicklas Backstroms eighth goal of the season. Ovechkin rumbled down the middle of the ice and cut to his right, taking defenseman Barret Jackman and forward Brett Sterling with him.
Ovechkin backhanded a pass to Backstrom, whose one-timer squirted through Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak for a 1-0 lead.
The Caps looked tentative after that, getting hemmed inside their own zone for long stretches and getting outshot 20-8 at one point.
Capitals center Brooks Laich said players were thinking about playing their new system instead of reacting, and as a result there was hesitation in their play.
It happens with the transition, Hunter said. They dont have it down pat yet, but it got better as the game went on.
Ovechkins play mirrored a lot of his teammates. He spent a long shift in the first period hemmed inside the Caps defensive zone, but had bursts of offense in the final period, just missing the net in the final 2 seconds of regulation.
Ovechkin finished with just one shot and four hits in 16:26 of ice time, his second-lowest ice time of the season.
Hunter said Ovechkins ice time was more a reflection of extensive penalty killing time in the second period than his play.
The Blues tied the score when T.J. Oshie muscled his way past Caps defenseman Karl Alzner to deposit a Alex Steen rebound past Tomas Vokun. Steens shot rang off the crossbar and Oshie tapped it in for his seventh of the season.
The Caps penalty killers namely Mike Knuble, Backstrom and Alzner -- helped kill off a two-man advantage early in the second period after Troy Brouwer went to the box for four minutes for high-sticking former Capital Jason Arnott and drawing blood from his right cheek.
The Blues used the momentum from the power play to take the lead at the 8:54 mark on a bad rebound by Vokoun. Shortly after a bad handoff with John Erskine behind the net allowed the Blues to take possession, Vokoun was handcuffed on a shot by Matt DAgostini.
The Blues forward followed up his own rebound, swung around the Capitals net, and stuffed it into the empty cage for a 2-1 lead.
The Caps lost center Marcus Johansson for much of the second period after he took a shot to the midsection, but he returned early in the third and completed the game.
A tripping penalty to Jason Chimera with 6:21 remaining in regulation killed any momentum the Caps tried to muster in the final period.