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.