Capitals’ playoffs match validates new coach Oates
The Washington Capitals have some sort of knack for making
late-season comebacks under first-time NHL coaches.
Seven straight wins to get into the playoffs under midseason
replacement Bruce Boudreau in 2008. Winning eight of 10 last year
under Dale Hunter after Boudreau was fired.
Adam Oates’ turnaround is perhaps the most impressive of the
three. He had to install a new system during a lockout-shortened
season. The team got off to a 2-8-1 start and was next-to-last in
the Eastern Conference standings a little more than a month ago.
One of his main tasks was to make sure his players weren’t starting
to doubt him.
”I believed in what we were doing,” he said Wednesday. ”And I
was hoping that it would turn around, so we could prove that we
were going in the right direction. And I think we’ve proven
Indeed. The Capitals have surged to the playoffs by winning 10
of their last 11, clinching the final Southeast Division title
before realignment kicks in next season. The talk of whether
Washington should have unloaded players at the trade deadline now
seems silly – as does the talk that Alex Ovechkin was in an
”There’s definitely some soul-searching that you do when you
start out 2-8,” defenseman Jack Hillen said. ”Everybody’s looking
around, trying to find their identity on this team. The lockout
really hurt us more than others because we had new guys, new
system, new coach, and were trying to figure it out.”
Ovechkin is now on the verge of winning the goal-scoring title,
having tallied his 31st Tuesday night in a win over the Winnipeg
Jets. He’ll get some serious consideration for league MVP.
”I think the beginning of the year when it was new coaching
staff, new system, we change our lines and we just don’t know how
to play,” said Ovechkin, who had more adjusting to do than most
after Oates moved him from left wing to right wing. ”We need some
time to realize how we have to play. It takes us probably 15 games,
maybe 16 games to realize it. We try to find the lineup, we try to
find good chemistry and it started working after 15, 16
Ovechkin has found Oates to be a refreshing change from Hunter,
who acted more as a CEO and relied on his assistants to communicate
with players. Oates is hands-on, using humor and positive
reinforcement to spur on the troops.
”I think he knows how to treat the guys,” Ovechkin said. ”He
was on the same page with us. He knows exactly what we need.
Sometimes when we need days off, he gives us days off, or we just
talk to him and he give us options. That kind of chemistry with him
and relationship, it’s working, so I’m pretty happy he’s our
Oates also got a special mention Wednesday on owner Ted Leonsis’
”He is incredibly calm and positive,” Leonsis said, ”and has
built a lot of confidence in our players and in his new
Oates is modest about the praise he’s getting – yet fully aware
that it’s a reversal from what he was hearing from some pundits
early in the season.
”I didn’t have doubts about the way they could play and what I
think it could turn into,” he said. ”The doubts, I think, came
just because I was a first-year coach, and all the people out there
that would jump on that. But I’m glad all the guys didn’t listen to
Washington has two games remaining in the regular season to
fine-tune the system before hosting Game 1 against a
yet-to-be-determined opponent next week. Then it will be time to
see if Oates can do something that Boudreau and Hunter couldn’t –
get the Capitals deep into the playoffs.
”It’s the Stanley Cup, that’s the only thing that matters,”
goaltender Braden Holtby said. ”This is a step in the right
direction, but we have a lot more work to do.”
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