Last season the Washington Capitals seemed to buy was coach Adam Oates was selling.
After a rough start, they embraced his offensive and defensive philosophies and became a serious Eastern Conference threat. Expectations were high for this season, especially after skilled forward Mikhail Grabovski arrived as a free agent.
But this season they lost focus again. Goaltender Braden Holtby struggled mightily, winger Alex Ovechkin quit checking again and winger Martin Erat lost interest altogether.
“Look what’s happening, look at our results. It’s the same mistakes mostly by veteran guys we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot,” Oates told reporters after a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils. “You play a decent game, it was a hard fought game, but we got behind and we couldn’t catch up.”
Injuries only made things worse. Ovechkin suffered a strained groin muscle and Grabovski suffered a leg injury after colliding with Devils captain defenseman Bryce Salvador.
Here are some specifics of Washington's deepening slump:
Their loss at New Jersey was their seventh in a row. They were 0-5-2 in that span. This is their worst streak since 2010.
They went recently went 149 minutes and 11 seconds without scoring a goal.
Opponents have outscored them 17-6 in their last five games.
Their penalty-killing ranks 21st in the league. The Capitals were shorthanded at least four times in each of their last four games.
They have four games remaining on this tough five-game road trip.
Jason Chimera wonders when his team will draw the line and stop losing.
“It’s one of those things that you should come to the game and play with that desperation and throw everything at [the net], get a 50-shot night or a 55-shot night and hopefully two or three will go in,” he told NHL.com. “If desperation doesn’t set in, then we’re in trouble that’s for sure.”
News flash for Jason: The Capitals are already in trouble.
Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin didn’t a whole lot done against the tight checking he saw during the playoffs.
But his strong finish to the regular season suggests Ovechkin could score 50 goals during the full 2013-14 campaign.
His adjustment to right wing wasn’t easy, but he finally bought what coach Adam Oates was selling. He settled in on the other side of the ice and scored 23 times in his last 23 games.
Ovechkin led the league with 32 goals during the lockout-shortened season. He will enter next season on the same page with Oates, which ought to make a big difference.
“Right now I can tell to work with him, it was probably one of the biggest reason to my success this year,” Ovechkin told reporters after the postseason ended.
His only big concern for next season is whether the team will lose center Mike Ribeiro to free agency. Ribeiro’s presence gave the Capitals two legitimate scoring lines and opened up more opportunities for Ovechkin to do his thing.
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke got fired before the season started. Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson just got the short haircut as new team president John Davidson continued the franchise overhaul.
Will Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee be the next NHL executive to pay for his team’s poor play?
He selected Adam Oates to replace Dale Hunter as head coach and the move proved disastrous. Oates brought the New Jersey schemes from his stint as a Devils assistant coach – and the Capitals struggled with the Xs and Os.
Washington won just two of its first 11 games before mustering a three-game wining streak. Sunday night’s 2-1 loss to the Rangers underscored the team’s early season crisis.
The Ottawa Sun notes that the beleaguered McPhee is eager to acquire near-term help via a trade. So he might be willing to part with the rights to top prospects Filip Forsberg and/or Evgeny Kuznetsov make something happen.
Of course, more than a few pundits suggested the time had come to move moody winger Alex Ovechkin. But it is hard to imagine owner Ted Leonsis signing off on that.
More likely he would see a new direction for his hockey operation. McPhee better hit the right buttons, and quickly.
Let’s face it, this whole Adam Oates this is not working out for the Washington Capitals.
The rookie NHL head coach is off to a 1-5-1 start. He is playing superstar Alex Ovechkin on a line with two muckers.
He buried 2012 playoff hero Braden Holtby after two starts in goal, starting Michal Neuvirth in the nets for the next five games. (Holtby will start tonight’s game against Philadelphia.)
The Capitals are struggling to master his offensive and defensive systems. They are awful at even strength and they earn far too many penalties.
Washington has already sunk to the Eastern Conference cellar, five points out of the No. 8 playoff spot. Pittsburgh looms next on its schedule after the Flyers game.
How long will general manager George McPhee let this slide? And how much longer will owner Ted Leonsis allow McPhee to oversee the team?
In Thursday night’s 3-2 loss at Toronto, the Capitals were outshot 41-22. They took eight minor penalties, all of them bad. They have taken five or more penalties in six of their seven games.
“You spend so much energy trying to kill those penalties that maybe you run out of a little bit of juice,” Oates told reporters after the game. “For some of the plays, guys have got to be maybe a little bit more focused on their sticks.”
Somehow they took a 2-1 lead into the third period, but once again they wasted that margin and failed to gain any points.
“Discipline’s been probably what’s costing us since the beginning of the year,” center Mike Ribeiro told the Washington Post. “If you don’t change that, then it’s just going to keep snowballing like that. You have to be disciplined on everything: on your shifts, how we play, how you chip the puck, how you take penalties, discipline in your game plan.”
Through four games, the Washington Capitals appeared to be dazed and confused under new coach Adam Oates.
Fans hoped the former Blues star would revive Washington’s lagging offense. Thus far he hasn’t done that.
Instead Oates applied the principles learned during his assistant coaching stint with the Devils.
For instance, he tried to move Alexander Ovechkin from left wing to right, as the Devils did with winger Ilya Kovalchuk. That shift paid big dividends for the Devils last season, but thus far Ovechkin has bristled at the change.
He kept drifting back to his accustomed left side. So Oates move him back there, but stuck him with fourth-line forwards Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb at even strength.
Let the war of wills begin!
Playing Ovechkin with two muckers is one of the strangest coaching moves you’ll see in a long time.
“I wouldn’t call it the first line,” Oates told the Washington Post. “It’s just more to give Jay and Crabber – Crabber played a lot of hockey games so he had some real good jump – and just let them play with Ovi for 60 minutes so they can skate.”
That’s great, but isn’t the point of hockey to score goals and win games? The Capitals are 0-3-1 heading into today’s game against the Buffalo Sabres.
“Playing with Ovi it almost opens up a lot more room for me and Crabber. It’s kind of weird,” Beagle told the Post. “I’ve never really experienced something where two defenders are on one guy so there’s two-on-ones all over the ice kind of because you’re playing with Ovi.”
Beagle is thrilled with this opportunity, of course, but Ovechkin scored exactly zero goals in four games.
“Of course I wanna see my name on the score list,” Ovechkin said. “We’re gonna try. It’s not frustrating. Right now most important thing it’s not about make a points or make goals. We have to take a win. One win and then I think it’s gonna be a very relief for us.”
The other ineffective Capitals lines featured Nicklas Backstrom centering Wojtek Wolski and Troy Brouwer, Ribeiro centering Jason Chimera and Joel Ward and Marcus Johansson centering Matt Hendricks and Eric Fehr.
“Trying to find balance and chemistry,” Oates explained. “The biggest subject we’ve been talking about is conditioning and just trying to make sure that we have someone in the line that has got game shape, total game shape.”
Again, this is not practice. These games actually count.
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.
Braden Holtby gets his another crack at establishing himself as the lead goaltender for the Washington Capitals.
Will he stand tall or muck it up?
Holtby allowed six goals on 34 shots during Washington’s season-ending opening 6-3 loss at Tampa Bay. First-year coach Adam Oates vowed to give his other goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, plenty of work this season.
So some observers wondered if that work could come in Washington’s the home opener against the Winnipeg Jets. Alas, Oates decided to come back with Holtby after attributing the Game 1 fiasco to miserable team play.
But Holtby knows he wasn’t as good as he needed to be at Tampa. Some of those goals allowed were clearly his fault.
“I think the first and the fifth were ones that I felt I could have played better,” Holtby told the Washington Post. “I don’t know if they would have went in still, but I felt that my positioning could have been better and reading the play. As a whole it was just one of those nights the puck went in.”
Last season Holtby spent most of the season in the American Hockey League. But he excelled in the playoffs, posting a 1.95 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in 14 appearances.
That earned him the initial nod over Neuvirth, who slipped last season after a strong 2010-11 showing: 27-12-4 with a 2.45 GAA and .914 save percentage. With back-to-back games looming Thursday and Friday, Oates won’t have to wait long to give Neuvirth his first look.
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