The Micromanager: Adam Oates’s Downfall

Breakdown Day (12 of 12)

Gone. (Photo: Chris Gordon)

Adam Oates is a smart man. After going undrafted out of college, he turned into a Hall of Fame player. It wasn’t his skill that made him an NHL success, but his elite ability to notice things other people didn’t. Oates had a coaching mind in a player’s body.

“If Adam notices something in a game, he adjusts right away,” Ron Wilson, then the Caps coach, told SI in 2001. “Even if it’s only how somebody is holding his stick. He takes the information, processes it, and puts it to use. The thing about Adam is that he assimilates a lot of stuff at once. Most guys might see one or two things, and the rest is a blur.”

However, years later, when Oates became head coach of the Capitals, that obsession with improving individual players would undermine the team as a whole.

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Andre Burakovsky‘s junior team, the Erie Otters, kicked off the OHL Western conference finals against Guelph Storm on Thursday.

The series features the league’s two best regular-season teams and could become the best match-up of the playoffs, featuring three NHL first-round draft selections (Burakovsky, Brendan Gaunce, and Jason Dickinson) as well as three shoo-ins to be picked in the first round of either 2014 or 2015 (Robby Fabbri, Connor McDavid, and Dylan Strome).

Game One more than lived up to the hype: the teams combined for nine goals on 53 shots, trading the lead all game long. Guelph won 5-4 at home and retained home-ice advantage. Burakovsky, playing on the Otters second line with Strome and Michael Curtis, was the catalyst of Erie’s attacks, earning third star of the game honors.

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John Carlson, drafted in 2008, is the most recent Caps defenseman selected in the first round. (Photo: Andre Ringuette/Getty)

Reading the comments in Ian’s post covering the draft lottery, most fans seem convinced that the Capitals must select Haydn Fleury with their 13th pick, if he’s available. It’s easy to see why: Fleury, who plays for the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, is a responsible defenseman in a draft dominated by forwards. It is likely that 13 out of the 15 top picks will be forwards. And the Caps blue line struggled with injuries and inconsistency all year long. Defense hasn’t been Washington’s forte for the better part of the Ovechkin era, and those defensive shortcomings have often been pegged as the key to the Caps’ early playoff exits (or, this year, pre-playoff exits).

Despite all of this, I’ll disagree with the notion that the Caps should select Fleury, or any other defenseman, with their first-round pick.

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Capitals Sign Prospect Chandler Stephenson

Photo credit: Keith Hershmiller/Regina Pats

The Capitals have signed forward Chandler Stephenson to an entry-level contract. According to a report by the Regina Leader-Post, the three-year contract is worth $925,000 per season, the maximum an NHL rookie can get.

Stephenson was originally considered a left winger, but he impressed at center for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League and for the Caps during last preseason. After missing time due to injury in the 2012-13 season, Stephenson had a huge breakout this year with 30 goals and 59 assists in 69 games, leading his team and finishing 14th in the league in points (89). He played in all situations for the Pats, logging a lot of ice time especially late in games.

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Photo: Rob Carr

Now that the Washington Capitals will officially miss the playoffs for the first time in six years, this is a great time to focus more on the tendencies of this Adam Oates-led team. While a lot of positive stories have been written about the team’s revitalized power play and its Russian captain, there’s a lot of reasons why we think Oates may be holding this team back from bigger and better things. Like, here’s twenty of them.

Then there’s the whole issue of the Caps sometimes looking like a beer-league team on the ice. Over the last few weeks, Caps players have violently collided into each other three times. Three. Times. And in two straight games.

Because this seems to be more like a pattern than a series of freak events, I collected GIFs and video of all the times it’s happened during Oates’ tenure. It’s happened… a lot.

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[Editor's note: We're not writing about this topic to invite a debate on Barack Obama's presidency or the politics of Crimea. This article is about hockey. Kind of. It's also about Miley Cyrus.]

In March, Vladimir Putin sent troops into the Crimea. His stated motive was to protect the mostly Russian population there from unrest. A few days later, the Crimean parliament declared independence from Ukraine and asked to join the Russian Federation. Putin then claimed Crimea as part of Russia on moral and material grounds, citing the principle of self-determination and Crimea’s strategic importance for Russia or some ish like that.

Lots of world leaders were pretty pissed about this, judging by the non-binding UN resolution (100 of 193 in favor) that declared Crimea’s Moscow-backed referendum invalid a few days later. Then the United States decided to show just how pissed they were by sanctioning Vladimir Putin and all his boyz.

Those of us who watch the news every night and consider ourselves informed knew all of this already. What we didn’t know is who exactly got sanctioned, why they got sanctioned, and why those sanctions matter to us. Thanks to Jennifer M. Smith (whom we had the pleasure of meeting at RMNB Party 6) and her co-workers at the Stewart & Stewart law firm, we have learned that some of the people sanctioned are deeply involved in the Russian hockey league, the KHL. Russian billionaire Arkady Rotenberg, president of Alex Ovechkin’s former KHL team Dynamo Moscow, has been sanctioned by the United States for being Putin’s former judo partner and a member of his inner circle.

You can’t make this stuff up.

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The Achilles Heel of the Capitals Power Play

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Photo: Patrick Smith

The Caps are bad at defense and give up a lot of odd-man breaks. Even when they win, Washington can’t hide that flaw. One aspect of that is particularly troubling: the amount of rushes they allow on their own power play.

The Capitals man-advantage has kept them afloat all year, generating about a third of their offense. However, against the Stars their PP could barely get going. Dallas had two breakaways on Washington’s opening power play, which was quickly negated by a John Carlson slash.

“Usually odd-man rushes are our breakdowns, not necessarily great plays by them,” Carlson said after the game. “We can’t let that happen. We’re too good of players.”

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About Those Birds at Verizon Center

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Ace photo by @WashCapsRock

On Saturday, I went to my first Washington Capitals game of the season because of the bet I lost to the Brouwer Rangers (I find it easier to cover games from home). While watching Troy Brouwer point and laugh at me in spandex was something I’ll never forget, the highlight of my day actually didn’t involve humans at all.

During the first period, as I sat in my perch (sorry, couldn’t help myself) in section 402, I noticed something through the visor of my motorcycle helmet: two fat birds frantically flying around Verizon Center looking for somewhere to land. You don’t get to see this kind of stuff on TV.

The birds swooped to and fro. Every few minutes they’d fly towards people in the crowd, making Caps fans scramble and hit the deck. While I focused on their escapades during the third period, I caught myself chanting bird! bird! bird! I also confused one of the birds for the puck after Alex Ovechkin chipped the biscuit into the air towards Jay Beagle. It almost helped me forget about the terrible game I was supposed to be watching. Almost.

Anyways, for whatever reason, the whole situation cracked me up (that’s an egg joke). Now I am filled with questions: How did these birds get into Verizon Center in the first place? Why are they still here now? (The first Verizon Center bird was spotted in December. It was skinny then.) Is Slapshot involved?

And what kind of birds are these?

Lucky for us, my future cousin-in-law Ian Gardner is the biggest bird nerd in the history of bird nerds. He’s currently at Penn State studying for his M.S. in Forest Resources, he has his B.S. in Wildlife Conservation from Juniata College, and he’s been involved in the Pennsylvania birdwatching community for the past 5 years. I sent him some photos of the birds and asked him for the low-down.

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EvgenyKuznetsovCar (2 of 3)

Photos by Chris Gordon

Eight games into his NHL career, Evgeny Kuznetsov is settling in. And by “settling in,” I mean living a life of luxury none of us will ever attain. First he got himself an apartment. Now he’s got himself a brand new car. The ride: a customized 2014 Mercedes Benz S63 AMG, with a base price of $140,000. It’s got 577 horsepower. That’s a lot.

Kuzya will probably spend most of his time sitting still on 66, but if you’re going to buy a mobile lounge, the new S-Class is pure and total luxury.

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Julianne Hough has been busy lately. She has announced that she will be doing a dance tour around the nation with her brother Derek. She also will be returning to Dancing With The Stars as a guest judge in two weeks.

We do not care about that. We care about Hough watching the Caps play at Verizon Center on Tuesday night (well, maybe we care; I guess this is debatable). I assume she was there to support her injured boyfriend, Brooks Laich, who recently went under the knife to repair his injured groin.

Here’s a treat: everybody’s favorite paparazzo Homer McFanboy posted this photo of Hough on the concourse, which was taken by an anonymous friend.

Here you see Julianne smiling with friends and— HEY, wait a minute. What is in her hands?

COMPUTER: ENHANCE QUADRANT PICARD LAMBDA.

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