AlznerGoal

Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

On Thursday night, Adam Oates was back behind the bench at Verizon Center for the first time since being fired at the end of last season. Much has changed since then. On this night, the Capitals were playing with sticks that were familiar to them and their coach was not giving his players the cold shoulder. But the most important change, at least on this night, came on defense. Oates instituted a defense system that required blueliners to give up the puck almost immediately after gaining it. This led to forced passes and a myriad of odd-man breaks against. It turned former Norris Trophy nominees like Mike Green into subject of ridicule. The Capitals defense, on the whole, was very bad.

This year, however, things are different. In offseason, new general manager Brian MacLellan added some much needed balance to the Capitals by signing Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to big money deals. New coach Barry Trotz has also freed up its defensemen, allowing them to carry the puck when necessary. This has led to a resurgence for Green, who has 39 points this season. Other blueliners have also chipped in. Through 73 games, Karl Alzner had more than doubled his career high in goals and surpassed his career high in assists.

Against the Devils, Alzner added his fifth goal of the year in a decidedly un-Oatesian way.

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Karl Alzner just scored his fifth goal of the season and the 12th goal of his career.

The goal came in the first period against the New Jersey Devils (Roy Rogers alert). Alzner joined the attack, which I hope Devils coach Adam Oates hated, and hit the back of the net from below the circles.

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adam-oates-laughs

Saturday night before the Los Angeles Kings took on the Vancouver Canucks, Sportsnet’s Hockey Night In Canada panel provided priceless insight on the upcoming Western Conference showdown.

“Adam, thoughts on the game,” host George Stroumboulopoulos asked, tossing it to former Caps head coach Adam Oates.

“Where’s your secondary scoring, [Los Angeles]? Other than the 70’s line, you’ve got to get it going,” Oates said. “And you’ve had a Stanley Cup hangover, it’s time to get going. Everybody [needs to] start chipping in.”

Naturally, Stroumboulopoulos wondered how long a Stanley Cup hangover should actually last. So he asked Oates.

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The End of the Trend

trotz and co

I’m really excited about the upcoming Caps season. After replacing Adam Oates with Barry Trotz, I predict the Caps will– finally– reverse their five-year decline and start to get better in 2014-15.

end-of-the-trend

But people who expect a coaching change to immediately transform the team into a Cup contender won’t find solace in the literature.

Teams changing coaches saw their Fenwick Close % increase about 0.35%; after a coaching switch, teams averaged one more Corsi attempt for and 0.4 more Corsi attempts against per 60 minutes, and saw very slight decreases in shooting and save percentages.

– Nick Emptage, NHLNumbers.com

Long-term, there seems to be a 1-point boost (from 48.4% to 49.4%) once a team replaces its coach.

– Gabriel Desjardins (I think), Arctic Ice Hockey

By that math (and before accounting for roster changes) we might expect the Caps to have around 48-percent puck possession next season. That would kind of suck. I’m a bit more optimistic.

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alex-ovechkin-richard-trophy

Photo: @myregularface

At 7:45 pm, Alex Ovechkin was awarded his fourth Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy for leading the league in goals. Instead of getting invited on stage, Ovechkin was interviewed at his seat by new Hockey Night In Canada host George Stroumboulopoulos.

Ovi said he was excited for himself and his team– and his coach… who doesn’t have a job anymore. So. Yeah.

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Former head coach Adam Oates was on Hockey Night in Canada radio a couple weeks ago to talk about his new role as an HNIC analyst. At the top of interview, Oates dropped this wisdom: “You wouldn’t like it if someone said something about you.”

So true. Please keep in mind as we move along.

Oates went on to discuss what it was like to coach known coach-killer Alex Ovechkin (“Just to set the record straight, I loved it… For me he was very coachable.”), how every detail of the game is not scrutinized (“It’s blogged. It’s twitted.”), and what team he likes in the playoffs (the Kings). Then, at the end of the interview, Oates told a story, ostensibly about how much he misses playing.

Oates:

When we played Toronto this year, we went to the shootout. I had Grabovski on my team. And he grabbed me right away and he said he didn’t wanna shoot. And I’m like, “Why not?” I didn’t tell him if I had him in my list or not. Obviously, he was a little nervous against [his former team] Toronto. So I didn’t put him in, and after the game I went up to him and I went, “Hey, if you skated down the ice and you fell down and they laughed at you… They all wanna be on the ice, man, and I miss it. I miss that feeling of nerves every day.”

Rob Pizzo responded, “That’s a great story.”

No, it’s not.

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Trotz MacLellan (7 of 13)

Photo: Chris Gordon

Alex Ovechkin is the most important person under contract with the Washington Capitals, more pivotal than either the general manager or the head coach. Signed to a 13-year, $124 million dollar deal in 2008, Ovechkin has become the Caps. His jersey sales sustain the team off the ice while his goal scoring provides the plurality of their offense. The preeminent task for his coach, then, is to manage him effectively. Barry Trotz, hired Monday by Washington, will now have to do that.

“It starts with a relationship,” Trotz told reporters from the Verizon Center club level yesterday. “I know I’m going to work at that but it can’t happen until I have a relationship with him because there’s no trust. For me Alex has to trust that I’m giving him the best advice for the team, for him, to grow his game. I don’t know Alex as well. Going against him, I know what he does well, but I need to know Alex the person. Coaching’s not just about Xs and Os, it’s about people.”

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Our friends at Maple Leafs Hot Stove reached out to us last night to ask about a worrisome rumor. Darren Dreger reported yesterday that Adam Oates is being considered for a position as assistant coach in Toronto. We’re still unsure there’s any substance to the rumor, but I shared my thoughts on what that might mean for the Maple Leafs. Call it my last chance to go to the well. Now here’s an absurdly large link:

Five Questions on Maple Leafs Assistant Coach candidate Adam Oates

Thanks to the guys at MLHS for having me again.

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Willie Desjardins of AHL’s Texas Stars is one of the best coaches not currently in the NHL (Photo: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

The common thought among Capitals fans is that the team’s new coach must have NHL experience. The Caps last five hires — Adam Oates, Dale Hunter, Bruce Boudreau, Glen Hanlon, and Bruce Cassidy — were all rookie head coaches. This time around, names like Barry Trotz and John Stevens are getting a lot of buzz, whereas Willie Desjardins and Phil Housley are getting little.

Experience matters. All other things being equal, you should hire the guy with more experience, but that does not mean the Caps should discount what a rookie coach might bring. Because if a coach’s best quality is his experience, that’s not a great sign.

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Caps PK

Embiggen.

If you ask the NHL, the Washington Capitals penalty kill was the 16th best in the land this season. They allowed 51 goals and escaped 82% of their shorthanded sessions unscathed, which doesn’t sound so bad. But actually the Caps PK was really, really, really, really bad. They were one of the worst ever, as far as I can tell.

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