Photo: Geoff Burke

After one of the most successful West Coast road trips in franchise history, the Washington Capitals lost four straight games — three of which at home.  They’ve been outscored 16-9 during the losing streak. On April fools day, the Capitals, still in the thick of the Eastern Conference wildcard chase, played one of their most pathetic games of the year, a 5-0 blowout loss to the Dallas Stars.

It wasn’t so much that the Capitals lost, it was how listless they played considering the stakes.

When looking back at that game, it’s obvious this team is not focused. When the players hit the ice, they wilted under the adversity.

Consider warm-ups. Normally the starting goaltender leads the Caps out onto the ice. On that night, Russian rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov came out first with Ovi right behind him. A few seconds later, the rest of the team followed. According to 106.7 The Fan’s Sky Kerstein, “it looked like Ovi pranked Kuzya.”

I’ve got no idea if something silly like that has any effect on a team, but it doesn’t look good in hindsight. Even worse because it comes from the captain of the team.

During the actual game, the Capitals were a mess. They gave up two consecutive breakaways on a power play. They let the Stars score twice within 34 seconds, including a 2-on-0 breakaway by a 41-year-old. On Dallas’s fourth salvo of the night, Ovechkin quit on the play.

Head coach Adam Oates has faced difficult questions about his coaching style recently. Is that style still working? How does he motivates his players behind closed doors?

While the mainstream media has focused its attention on Oates’ honest comments about Ovechkin, there was much, much more to those interviews. Below is a summary of what I found most interesting.

Oates After Practice Wednesday

On who was to blame on 2-on-0 breakaway goal, how to fix it, and teaching younger players:

There’s mistakes on everything. We’ve talked about this a lot. Orly ripped it up to Grabo because he thought he was open. It gets tipped and Orly relaxed for a second. [The Stars] goalie makes a great play. He could have set it up for his D [behind the net], instead he rips it and puts it on the guy’s tape. But the bottom line is you can’t relax. Unfortunately.

And [Orlov]’s a young guy and he’s learning these lessons. It came at a horrible time for us.

There’s times where you’ve got the puck with time. What is the correct play? There’s no breakaways, right? There’s not supposed to be when there’s five guys back. So we have to understand that as a group, you know what, you’ve got to build it correctly. We go over it a lot. We do go over it a lot. And you can’t stop a guy from making that pass because what if Grabo gets that bounce? To me the mistake is relaxing after you pass.

It’s a young guy mistake, but old guys have done it. It’s a bad change. It’s the second period. It’s a long change. That’s why the GMs are talking about changing four-on-four [overtime] to change ends for that long change– for that very reason. Guys get tired physically and mentally. That’s a mental mistake right there. And it hurt and it came at a bad time. But what I told him after the second period, because we’re down three nothing, I’ve got to come up something. To me, if we come back from that particular 3-0 score or not, on Friday we can’t make that same mental mistake. So that’s why I told Orly and I told the guys: “We all make [mistakes]. You make a mistake in a game: it happens, whether it’s the first shift or the last shift. Don’t let it happen again. You have to learn from it.” So Friday night, if Orly makes the same mistake, now what? Now I have to address the mental part of it. And quite honestly, that’s what part of being a pro is about, right? That’s what we try to cover everyday.

On veteran mistakes and his coaching philosophy:

[Those mistakes] make it hard on all of us. Every day part of our thought process as a coaching staff is how do we talk about those mistakes, keep the guys fresh — it’s a long grind, [we] try not to wear them out mentally, physically — then to how do you approach the day.


I made [those mistakes as a player]. I can’t be a hypocrite. I made them. I liked to think I learned from them. And we gotta teach. It’s all you can do. We gotta teach. Veterans you talk to them in different ways. Young guys you teach.

On why he doesn’t think yelling is productive:

The one big thing is someone will say, “You need to yell at them.” I don’t see Bill Belichick yell. [Oates shrugs his shoulders.] That doesn’t mean he can’t yell with his eyes. Right? Or his face or his mood. It’s all a part of respect. Everyone says that until they’re the ones yelled at.

Collectively as a group, you have veterans and young guys. We watch [film] everyday. Nothing’s more embarrassing than the video. Nothing. That’s your yelling. Right? You show that and everyday we show some negative that’s humbling and some positive. And we pick different guys. That goes from the captain to the youngest guy. We try to factor in how much we show. Then we go around collectively and talk to them individually. That doesn’t mean sometimes you can’t raise the bar, of course. That’s not what changes winning or losing for me. No.

On if there are times he needs to change his style to motivate his players more:

I raise my voice. I change my tone of voice. Of course. I don’t necessarily let you guys know about it or they don’t because that is part of our code. We should keep our stuff in there. [Oates gestures towards locker room.] After the second intermission against Boston, I let them have it for what I wasn’t happy about. I’m not without emotion explaining it to them what’s wrong.

On what frustrates him most:

I would say the biggest thing that frustrates me as a coach that we do wrong is when we have simple plays. We don’t pass the puck on our buddy’s stick. And that ends up imploding us. Then it turns into you giving them a second wave, you give them third waves. You’ve got an opportunity to pass it, you don’t. You got a guy open, you don’t – [you do a] hail mary. It could have been an icing. We ice it four times a game on that play […] We have to try and conquer [it]. That’s what frustrates me the most, when you have no pressure on you — the game is fast enough — so when you have a free second, make the right play. Everyone knows that when you don’t, it’ll come back sooner or later.

[The Nashville game] is a great example for me. Their first goal came off a face-off. So Beags loses the draw. We don’t block a shot, we get picked out, Jaro doesn’t catch it, Patrick Wey doesn’t get the guy for the rebound. But the mistake was the icing before that. There’s other mistakes after but how many times… Beags now has to take a face-off on his wrong side, which the percentage goes down. And then Shea Weber pounds the puck. That’s one of his gifts. But the mistake was still the icing. It finally bagged us. We had possession of the puck, we didn’t need to ice it, we iced it, and every once in a while it bags us. The next thing you know you’re fighting an uphill battle. And those are the little things that add up.

Oates After Practice Thursday

On if Ovechkin’s prank on Kuznetsov before warm-ups on Tuesday bothered him:

I didn’t know [about] it until you just mentioned it. The guys do what they can to be loose. You know what? If we had a lousy first period, I would say yeah, but we didn’t.

On talking to Ovi about giving up:

I haven’t talked to him yet about that particular play. We will. And you know what? The message is the same message I tell him all the time. It’s a shame because he actually pushed hard up the ice. And I’m sure when he turned around he saw that we had three guys back and figured they’d get the job done. But they didn’t. And Ray Whitney. Watch Ray Whitney. He looked surprised too. If you watch his reaction – he goes, “Oh, wow” and jumps into it. Ovi got caught flat-footed. It happens to everybody at times. No question. Every player has their momentary lapses. It’s just a reminder to him that you can’t. You’re in the spotlight. You can’t.

On if teammates spoke to Ovechkin after the play on the bench:

On that one, we’re already down 3-0. I think the guys were more focused on that. And you know what, they might have been looking at the play over there so they didn’t see it. I don’t know. I didn’t hear it.

On holding Ovechkin accountable for giving up on a play:

It starts with himself. And at the end of the day it ends with you as a person and a player. And then coaches, players, evolution.

Tagged with:
  • TowsonTrumpetGuy .

    I’m pretty sure Ovechkin got that idea from the Blackhawks last week-they sent out their rookie first and just hung back to prank him.

  • Chris Cerullo

    That’s been a prank for a looooonnngggg time

  • GuestZ

    Annnnd none of this explains why this team isn’t successful. Or, in fact, it is exactly why this team isn’t successful. Goodbye AO. Thanks for getting GMGM out of town for us fans…

  • Jack Conness

    Honestly, I do like the way he talks. If I were to get a read on this guy from his interviews, I would love him. But whatever he is doing, it just doesn’t work. They aren’t winning and they have looked sloppy all year. Zero adjustments. A good game here and there but that’s it. He obviously knows the game but it just isn’t working. Maybe head coaching isn’t his thing.

  • Matt Lauer

    blah blah blah blah blah blah

  • ATPinDC

    Thank you for transcribing all of this, Ian. I find it far more instructive than the tweets and blaring articles proclaiming “Coach throws Captain under the bus!” I was quite certain there was more, because Oates usually tends to say more (that people ignore in favor of the sexy quote).

    But because everything sucks, I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the interviews, so I appreciate having the comments to read. Context is a good thing.

    Also, I was at practice today, and while everything that happens now is probably too little too late, I’ve never heard Oates be as vocal in practice as he was today. It was like night and day. There was a ton of teaching going on out there. Too bad it didn’t happen sooner.

  • Capper63

    I second that. It is good to have the entire conversation noted, and not just the one quote taken out of context.
    That is interesting about the difference in teaching at practice today. Thanks for sharing.

  • Chris Cerullo

    Assistant coaching is his thing. Which is what I got from his comments.

  • alchemistmuffin

    This type of coaching style, is the reason why the team is in the toilet now. There is no real motivation here. All this will lead to failed season.

    The other teams, why they are having success, they don’t tolerate any failure. The coaches are aggressive and tough, yet motivating to the players. I don’t see that from this coach based on this revelation.

    As much as I hate to admit it, we need a coach exact opposite of Oates that will give boost to the team. This isn’t the southeast division. And right now, the coach is still in the mentality of the southeast division.

  • Bev Miller Bellamy

    Maybe I’m missing something, but he gave an interview throwing Ovi under the bus about “giving up on a play”, and in this interview transcription he says he hasn’t “talked to him yet about that particular play?” Pardon me if I think that is disrespectful to the player and low class by a coach. Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on the timeline Ian, but that just doesn’t sound like good coaching technique to me…..

  • Rossineri

    Ovi have ALLWAYS been so so in defence,he just don`t have that drive and it`s fine by me if he keeps scoring goals..Why is everyone bashing Ovi now? yes offcourse the team is playing horrible and missing the playoffs.

  • Bugs Fire

    I do not see him accepting any responsibility. He “yells with his eyes”? Well, it is not working.

    To be fair, he is not on the ice during games, and players are supposed to be professional and give it their best at the ~$40,000/hour rate. But that attitude got Claude Noel nowhere.

  • Justin Siegel

    I’m not sure I buy the whole “the coach needs to motivate the team” philosophy. These are adults who get paid do something they love and I think there should be enough internal motivation to get the job done. The fact is, the players will be more “motivated” when things are going well and when they feel comfortable as a team. Oates hasn’t put them in a position to win and I’m starting to get the feeling that the team understands that. Yelling won’t accomplish anything.

  • Evan Michael

    Regarding Ward and the Masterson. He is the Caps’ MVP without a doubt.

    I can remember in 2004 when I was doing my undergrad at Dalhousie. They had a guy named Chris Stanley who was probably the best non-NHL player I have ever watched. Joel Ward played for UPEI back then, and he was the only player in the league that held a candle to Stanley. Man, it was fun to watch those guys play for free.

  • HockeyCoachBen

    Two red flags that I see from these quotes…

    1. There’s is no healthy constructive conversation between Head Coach and Captain. Oates makes a comment to the media about a lack of effort from Ovechkin but doesn’t address the man himself? There is either a fear to say it…or a knowledge that saying it won’t make a difference. Either way, major problem!

    2. Oates says he finally did scream and yell during the second intermission of the Stars game. How did that turn out? With an even worse third period. Uh oh! Has Oates “lost the locker room”? Usually when a quiet, reserved person gets angry, everyone listens. Not this time. Again, major problem!

    Aside from there being communication issues between coach and team, it actually sounds more like everyone has given up on the season and just want it to be over. Just…wow!

  • HockeyCoachBen

    Correction – Oates “let them have it” in the Boston game, not Dallas.

  • Evan Michael

    In that case, it’s even worse. The Caps played fine in the third against Boston, so maybe it worked short team. However, their game against Dallas was the most brutal thing I have ever watched. Throw in a loss against the lowly Predators and, as you suggest, the team don’t really care what their coach has to say.

  • Barrett

    Back checking is a basic fundamental concept of playing hockey – you don’t have to be a good defensive forward to back check, everyone should do it. It starts with the effort and desire to want to do it.

  • Evan Michael

    Two possible choices for coach, in my eyes, are Laviolette and Dineen. Laviolette has taken two different teams to the Stanley Cup finals (the Canes in 2006 and the Flyers a couple years back) and he has one ring. Dineen, on the other hand, has not won anything at the NHL level as a coach, but did manage to get a very weak Panthers team to double overtime of a game 7. He will push the players, and is coming off a gold medal with Canada’s women, which they won against a better USA roster.

    I have heard cries for Keenan, which I don’t love. For me, it should be one of the two listed above, with my preference being for Laviolette.

  • Rossineri

    Yes and Ovi is the worst in the world to do that,he doesn`t move his feet when he is on the other side of the ice..But everone knew this before so why bash him now?

  • Barrett

    Marc Crawford might not be a bad choice either.
    I’d actually welcome Mike Keenan – there’s a reason he earned his nickname and its the way he deals with the players. Maybe that’s what this team needs, a coach who doesn’t take crap from “super-stars”.

  • Barrett

    He’s always been bashed for his lack of defensive effort. Note I’m using the word effort, because I don’t care that he isn’t good defensively – I just want him to hustle – and he doesn’t always do that.

  • Evan Michael

    I wouldn’t mind Crawford – he would likely be third on my list.

    The main reason that I like Dineen and Laviolette is that neither take any crap from players. Both are also proven in recent years, and have enjoyed some form of success over the past few years. Keenan, to me, is a bit dated. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I would like to see someone else.

  • Rossineri

    Yes i absolutely agree with,i thought with age that Ovi would mature in this aspect but i just don`t see anything.

  • Patrick Neimeyer

    One thing that always boggled my biscuit was Oates and his line juggling. If we look back at the recent playoff contenders along with the stanley cup champions over the past few years, solid lines, lasting for sometimes years always have stuck together and with the same players..Cough Cough Boston and Chicago… For us we seem to be like mad scientist going with the Beagle or Carrick Experiments hoping for a winner. Oh well after looking at the wild card standings…simply put YIKES!

  • Shaun Phillips

    I’d love him as an assistant where he’s just responsible for the power play. Maybe he could focus on the centers’ faceoffs as well.

  • Bugs Fire

    Oh yeah, that fourth goal is totally on Ovie. Never mind that two Dallas guys completely outplay three Caps (Green, Orlov and Beagle). Never mind Grabo is also just watching.

    I refuse to blame anybody but Oates for as long as Grabo-Beagle-Ovie line is allowed to exist. One excuse for Beagle-Ovie pairing was that Grabo was hurt and coach needed Backstrom to shore up second line. Maybe Oates needs to watch some video to learn that his lines are not working. Ovie scored no goals 5v5 for a month.

    And this is just one move (swap Beagle and Fehr moving Grabo back to center) away from the most dangerous Ovie-based line we have seen this year. Which was quickly scratched because, you know, Ovie started getting assists.


  • factoryofsadness

    heres a little help for you coach. you keep teaching these guys things your way, and ill handle the random number generator :p

    youve done good here but nowhere else

    52-not erskine or carrick
    81-not erskine or carrick

  • CDizz

    And what about putting the League’s best goal scorer on a line with a 4th line checking center? WHAT ABOUT THAT, ADAM?

  • Jason Smith

    Adam Oates was favorite Cap when he played for us. When he was hired to be coach, I proudly broke out my blue, white and gold Oates jersey to wear to games again. I was a little worried about his minimal coaching experience but optimistic that his terrific experience as a player could connect with our rapidly aging Young Guns. But I’m sorry to say I’ve given up on him.
    He gives a great interview and says some very insightful things. I don’t have a problem with his style in trying to teach and motivate; these are grown men being paid a lot of money to play a game and they shouldn’t need someone yelling at them in order to do their jobs. If my boss screamed at me every time a made a mistake I would move on.
    The problem is his seeming inability to assess talent and his highly questionable personnel decisions.
    He clearly does not know how to coach goalies. He has undermined Braden Holtby’s development and cost the team wins by “riding the hot hand” when all evidence of stats and past experience argue against it.
    He doesn’t know how to assess defenseman as evidenced by his sticking with Connor Carrick when it was obvious the kid wasn’t ready and by pairing Green and Orlov resulting in there being no true blueliner on the ice.
    I can’t even begin to guess WHY he squandered the talents of Erat and Penner but it must have made GMGM furious. Setting aside how they got here, once they were they should have been integral parts of an offense that desperately needed help but Oates put them on a shelf.
    Finally, the last straw for me was the line of Grabo-Beagle-Ovechkin starting against Nashville. The Caps have been desperate for a C2 for years and I believe they got him in Grabo. To shift him to wing on a line centered by Beagle, who is a C3 at best, is stupid. To keep playing that combo when is produces absolutely nothing is criminal. And to do it yet again in a game where a loss against and “inferior” team is almost certain to end your playoff hopes is, for me, the end.
    Sorry Oatsie, I loved you as a player but I’m ready to see you gone as head coach!

  • Megan

    I honestly don’t think Oatsy is the issue. We have had McPhee under how many different coaches?

  • Josh Carey

    When the team finally had the players to become contenders, we saw that with Boudreau. McPhee’s biggest problem was firing Boudreau. He had the team and was discouraged by the 2010 playoff exit. Hunter coached a good team but wanted to go back to London. Oates is the first coach with a playoff caliber team to not make it.

  • Bilal

    whether you think Dale Hunter was a good coach or not, one thing is for sure…….he would have played Tom Wilson a lot more then he already does………..

  • Will Schmidt

    Great points about Jojo playing his best hockey lately though. Almost seems to under perform specifically when playing with Backstrom

  • Jack Conness

    You would think Oates would be a huge help on the face-off (I believe 56.9% in his career) but it hasn’t translated at all. Washington is 22nd in the league in face-offs, at 48.8%. Now, I don’t know if face-offs have a lot to do with the players or the coaching but it hasn’t worked this year. Granted, the Caps were 8th in the league in face-offs last year, at 50.8%. My guess is it doesn’t help with the injuries the Caps have had this year. For what it is worth, just some fun numbers to work with!

  • Hockey mom

    The sloppiness is what really irks me. If they don’t want to get on the ice and give it their all, I would much rather have some dudes with “less talent” but more heart play!

  • Chris Cerullo

    Well he’s using guys like Fehr, Erat, Mojo, Brown, and to some extent Kuzya recently at center. Our FO% dropping was just bound to happen doing things like that.

  • Stardawg

    I don’t like the fact that GMGM hasn’t addressed the weaknesses on defence that have been apparent for years.
    I don’t like the fact that Oates hasn’t found a way to get this team playing decent hockey.
    You can say fire the GM, fire the coach, but at some point you have to blame the players. A lot of the problems with the Caps have been present for years:
    – slow starts to games
    – bad passing
    – utterly stupid mistakes when possessing the puck
    – bad penalty killing
    – lack of commitment to the defensive side of the game
    – bad line changes
    I think that they would be a better team with a different coach, but how much better? Stanley Cup better? I don’t think so.
    This team has gotten away with bad play over the years because they could score goals. The less they score the more the inept defensive play becomes apparent.
    Whether it is with a new GM or new coach, this team needs to make major personnel changes to compete for a championship. This group has shown over and over again that they don’t have what it takes.

  • Eric Schulz

    Here’s the thing: the way he talks is FINE. That, alone, to me doesn’t say “assistant coach.” A head coach can ABSOLUTELY do that. A head coach SHOULD do that. If you can’t motivate yourself, then what’s wrong with you? Yelling NEVER worked for me, nor for any teammate I’ve ever talked to, and at the NHL level, you can be sure they love the game at least as much as I did. The problem is the other stuff that Oates doesn’t do well. Namely, talent/role evaulation (Penner is a great winger for Backstrom and Ovechkin; Beagle is stretched on the 3rd line, let alone the 1st) and his stubborn-ness with regards to handedness. The way he handles the team as far as attitude is fine.
    (Look up John Gagliardi, the winningest football coach in college history. He didn’t yell, he didn’t believe in BS like that, or even calisthenics; in short, he didn’t believe in doing things just because they were always done that way. He did alright.)

  • Eric Schulz

    I agree. I blame GMGM for not giving us enough centers, as well as giving us few centers who are good at faceoffs. Of course I think Oates hasn’t done a great job of utilizing our talent (no Penner on 1st line; I understood trying Beagle with Ovechkin at first because we had only 2 centers and he didn’t want to stack our top lines, but for one Johansson on that wing didn’t make sense then and two.. honestly, while I didn’t hate it as much as most seemed to – Beagle is probably our best faceoff man, so winning FO = possession = scoring… obviously not as much as with Backstrom, but it wasn’t so illogical as some seemed to think after-the-fact – but I would’ve tried Johansson at center with, again, Penner on the top wing there; his usage of defenders is baffling), but to me, it starts with GMGM. He didn’t give us enough centers, and even worse he didn’t give us enough NHL-caliber defenders.

  • Eric Schulz

    On the one hand, sure.. on the other, if it’s brought up by a reporter, I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with him answering it and addressing Ovie later. To me, it’s not really a big deal.

  • Eric Schulz

    Yeah, well… that’s the stuff he handles well. What he needs to explain is: what type of player do you think Penner is? And: what type of player would be a perfect fit for the top line to complement Backstrom and Ovechkin? And: then why isn’t he playing there? And: why don’t you just play your best players instead of being so stubborn on handedness? Haven’t you seen where Ovechkin scores the majority of his goals? Does it really matter that he’s played RW when the bulk of his goals are coming from him playing LW? And: what do you see in Carrick and Erskine? What do you not see that you need to see from Oleksy and Schmidt?

  • Eric Schulz

    I don’t think the problem is our guys not being treated like shit; I don’t think that Keenan or a guy like that is the solution. No player is perfect. Example: Ovechkin is the best winger in the game, the best goal scorer, the best power forward, and the most dominant player; his defense is sub-par, to be generous. So, how do you address that? Find players who can make up for that. Add a defender who can play physical defense and make things easier for the rest of the team; we have enough offense, not enough defense (our goal scoring isn’t great, but that’s because, IMO, we don’t possess the puck enough because the other team possesses it too much because our defense doesn’t a) force them into turnovers, and b) breakout properly. A better defender for Green on the 2nd pair and Orlov on the 3rd fixes that). GMGM has not only shown himself incapable of addressing it, he’s shown himself incapable of even identifying the problem; show him the door. Then, after that, we need a coach who will use our players properly. Oates certainly has not shown himself capable of that. Show him the door.
    Honestly, I don’t think the team has Cup contender talent right now, but we aren’t far away. With the right GM, we could *EASILY* be there at the start of next year. I just know, at this point, that GMGM isn’t that guy.

  • Eric Schulz

    It’s working just fine; stop blaming “not yelling” for the team not making the playoffs. What’s NOT WORKING is his lines…

  • Eric Schulz

    Um… I agree with that, save for your “not sure” comment. You can go ahead and be sure…

  • OlietheGoalie

    Bring him back as an Assistant. I don’t think that’s possible (has anyone successfully been demoted, take it in stride, and do well with the team), but… yeah. Something has to work.