Following the Capitals four-game flareout in the second round of the playoffs last spring, a handful of Capitals veterans asked Bruce Boudreau to hold the entire team accountable when they returned for the 2011-12 season.
No special allowances for Alex Ovechkin or Alex Semin or Mike Green or anyone else.
Through 10 games, Boudreau has followed through.
He made Marcus Johansson a healthy scratch in the season opener and ticked off goalie Tomas Vokoun by using him to back up Michal Neuvirth.
He dropped Mike Knuble to a fourth line; made Jeff Halpern a healthy scratch and sat Ovechkin on the bench in a one-goal game.
The message? No more Mr. Nice Guy.
Hes cracking down, defenseman Karl Alzner said. I really like stuff like that. It sucks for the guy it happens to, but accountability makes you work that much harder and do the right things all the time.
Alzner said players have wanted to be held accountable ever since he arrived in Washington in 2008 but acknowledged they never seemed to practice what they preached.
A lot of times it was just talk, Alzner said. Last year and the year before guys would say, Lets come out hard and dump the puck and theyd go out there and wouldnt do it. Now it seems to be if someone says something we all go out and do it.
The change, he said, starts with Boudreau holding every player not just a few -- to a higher standard this season.
Everybody wants it, Alzner said. If you worked as hard as you possibly can and youre blocking shots and do all that and one guy isnt, it feels like youre wasting your time. Everybody is trying to show theyre accountable because they dont want to let their teammates down. We need that through the season and in the playoffs.
Knuble believes the improvements the Capitals made to their roster over the summer with the additions of Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, Halpern, Roman Hamrlik and Vokoun, have made it easier for Boudreau to take ice time away from star players like Ovechkin without running the risk of losing games.
Its a reflection of a different team, Knuble said. If he didnt play certain guys a couple years ago hed be biting off his nose to spite his face. Now we have guys who can grind and get goals.
Knuble said now is the time of year to hammer home the idea that players like Ovechkin will need to perform at a high level, not only in games, but in practices as well.
He knows nine times out of 10 hes going to be the guy, Knuble said. Its a good thing to see. He may work a little harder in practice and get the message.
Boudreau said hes not interested in making friends in the locker room, only winners, and that his players need to get used to hearing the same message over and over.
Im hoping we dont change that message, he said. Were going to try to stay strong with it. Its the only way were going to be successful.
So far, its working to the tune of an 8-2-0 record, best in the Southeast Division.
Maybe, he said, Im getting smarter. I dont know.