New Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates has a massive mess on his hands. The former NHL playmaker and New Jersey Devils assistant coach is off to a rocky start in his first head-coaching gig in the NHL.
His winless team hasn’t been anywhere near competitive in its games. The Capitals have been ahead a grand total of 2 minutes, 31 seconds in their first three games. Opponents have outscored them 14-6.
Let’s review all the issues in play:
- The Capitals are struggling to adapt to Oates’ system, which mirrors the system Pete DeBoer installed in New Jersey. It isn’t as defensive as the Dale Hunter system or as free-wheeling as the Bruce Boudreau system. “We gotta find each other better and we need to get a better forecheck, too,” center Nicklas Backstrom told CSN Washington. “I think it’s embarrassing the way we’re playing and we’ve really got to regroup and play better. It’s up to us. Even if we have a new system it’s not such a big difference from the other system. It’s a matter of work and making the right decisions at the right time.”
- Oates wants Alexander Ovechkin to play right wing. Trouble is, he keeps drifting to his more familiar left side. So Oates left Ovechkin switch for the third period of the 4-1 loss to Montreal. “I know it’s what he’s used to,” Oates said, according to the Washington Post. “I still think he should be a right winger. But I also want him to be happy and get something out of his game. So it was more to try and get a spark for him and get him going.”
- So far Oates hasn’t located a productive winger to play with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Wojtek Wolski, Marcus Johansson and Joey Crabb took turns failing there Thursday night. Opponents have been able to sit on Ovechkin. “When I have the space, I want the puck,” he told the Post Thursday. “Without the puck, you can do nothing. You can be out there 25 minutes, but without the puck, you’re just gonna be out there. It’s gonna be like figure skate. Of course I want the puck. I want to control the game, and you know, like, everybody knows.”
- The normally reliable defensive pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson crumbled during the first three games. Alzer has been on the ice for eight goals this season and Carlson has been victimized nine times. At Alzner’s suggestion, defensive coach Calle Johansson paired Alzner with Mike Green and Carlson with Tom Poti for the third period of that game.
- Neither Braden Holtby nor Michal Neuvirth have played well enough in goal. Holtby, last season’s playoff hero, started the first two games. Neuvirth, a standout two seasons back, got the third game. He will start tonight, too, despite losing to the Habs. “I thought he played very well,” Oates said. “Gave us a chance.”
- Washington’s special teams have been a mess. The Capitals have allowed five more power-play goals than they’ve scored.
The Capitals are too talented to lose every game. Sooner or later they will make the system work for them. But in a condensed season, they better speed the process.
“Everybody’s different, but it’s not the ideal situation for a new coach, new system to come in in a shorter period like that,” Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur observed, according to CSN Washington.