We’ve sometimes lobbed criticism at Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates, but one thing we can agree on is that his handling of Alex Ovechkin since being hired has been excellent.
Oates has reinvigorated the Caps captain, helping him to win the MVP the last season. Under Oates’ tutelage, Ovechkin has grown as a player and a scorer.
On Wednesday when asked about the mountains of criticism for Ovechkin after Russia failed to medal in their own Olympics, Oates — in my opinion — had one of his finest moments as a Capital.
Are you worried about Ovechkin after all the criticism he’s absorbing in Sochi?
Adam Oates: I’m not worried about him when he gets back here. Obviously I feel for him as I’m sure everybody does. He did a great job of handling it up until the [end]. Obviously he did his best. We talk about how you can only control how you play. You can’t control how the team plays or how it evolves and spins out. That’s obviously not the ending that they wanted, but when you look at it, that’s the third or fourth Olympics [Russia] hasn’t medalled. It’s not on one guy; it’s on the group. And at some point I’ll have a chance to talk to him about that.
The Russian coach mentioned Alex. He mentioned an inability to score. And I don’t know how many coaches do that — single out a player — but is that tough as a coach to hear that?
AO: To hear that? Yeah. But I have to be careful here because it’s easy [to criticize] from the cheap seats. We all watched the games. I watched them too. The first thing I saw the whole Olympics was there was five 1-0 games. Everybody thought this was going to be a high-scoring, bigger-rink hockey, but it’s not. It’s not how hockey’s evolved. It’s hard to score goals. It was obviously hard for them. It’s hard for a lot of guys. Crosby hasn’t got one yet. You know?
And if they lose, there’s a lot of heat on [Crosby].
AO: For sure. It’s hard. For Latvia — I don’t know how many shots they ended up with — but it’s hard to score goals, and it’s hard in an environment when you had one practice in front of the coach. He’s got these twenty guys thrusted at him. To me, [Russia] looked like a team that didn’t have chemistry. Some great hockey players on it. They just don’t look like they had a chemistry going in and in the games they never seemed to sort it out. That’s what it looked like to me. That’s not on any one guy or the coach. That’s just what the team looked like. They didn’t get their groove.
Does it make a difference that when he comes back here he has chemistry and a team structured in a way that will help him succeed?
AO: I think so. We try to put a plan together for everyone to succeed. And for our top dogs to succeed. You look at some of their guys… Kovalchuk scored two goals because Ovi’s in his spot on the power play. They got two power play goals. [Ovi] didn’t get them, but Kovalchuk scores because they’re worried about Ovi back door. He doesn’t get credit for that, but he’s a part of that. I think their team in general — Ovi included — did not look like they figured out a way to go north. They turned it over too much in the neutral zone to me. They were willing to play their structure of hockey which is the way they play. They’re totally entitled to play their way that they want and have success their way. Latvia had five guys back [in the defensive zone]. That’s what they thought they would need to do to win the game. I just feel bad because you end up taking criticism no matter who you are.
What kind of analysis will you share with him when he gets back?
AO: When he’s in the mood, we’ll talk about it. I’ve already taped a couple of his games and to show him what I like and don’t like about what I saw. Because I also have my own opinions about the games and when he plays for us, I’ve always tried to establish with him a rapport where we’re on the same page. And why I want him to be successful and how him being successful allows us to be successful. And vice versa. He’s been great about that and we have a good relationship that way. But obviously there’s a period of mourning for the guy. I would hope everybody who’s a Caps fan feels for him because he’s a big part of us.
He’s obviously a guy who puts a lot of things on his shoulders. Are you going to try to show him what really happened in film?
AO: Yeah and you know, nobody was more frustrated than me. I threw something at the TV yesterday I was so mad at part of the plays and it had nothing to do with him. It’s just the way the game was being played over there. I was just very frustrated because I could see it evolving into a form where nothing seems to be working. Especially today in the second half of the game — and we all saw it — nothing was working for them. They looked discombobulated. They had no cohesiveness. Mike Milbury said that and I agreed with that point wholeheartedly.
When you place a player in that situation, is it even more difficult because he came from playing this system here to where you’ve asked him to do certain things, and he’s playing in a different system, different teammates…
AO: Absolutely. You’re right. That’s why you can’t criticize one guy because everybody’s asked to do different things within the way they want to play. And that’s Canada. There are guys on that team that… Matt Duchene sat out today. PK Subban sat out today. He’s the Norris trophy winner. He sat out. You’ve got Zack Parise, who I talked to, on a checking line. Well he’s not a checking line [forward] in Minnesota. You change your roles. Well when you are on a checking line, you’re not going to produce. So your numbers aren’t going to be the same. So if [your team loses], someone might throw criticism at you. That’s not fair. That’s why it’s easy [to criticize] from the cheap seats.
Russia collectively did not have a rhythm and I think that’s the best way to put it in fairness to them. They had the most pressure because it’s in their country.
How do you want [Ovechkin] to handle this?
AO: I heard he was the only guy who talked to the media. That’s how I want him to handle it. That’s being a pro and a man, right?
AO: Yeah. If you’re going to accept the accolades, you have to accept the criticism.