The Nail: Devils Beat Caps 2-1

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Photo: Bruce Bennett

Tuesday’s Caps game was ugly. The days that followed didn’t get much better. Adam Oates kinda sorta maybe called out Alex Ovechkin on Wednesday for being Alex Ovechkin. The national hockey media devoured it like it was some delicious Chipotle guac. Ovi wasn’t made available to reporters on Thursday to respond.

With six games left, everyone started to realize it would take divine intervention for the Capitals to make the playoffs. If they did make it, they didn’t deserve to be there — and the Capitals knew that.

The scoring got started tonight with an even-strength Alex Ovechkin tally, the first since we still cared about the Winter Olympics. Playing on a line with Mikhail Grabovski and Nicklas Backstrom, Ovi took a feed from Grabo in the near circle before flipping the puck past Cory Schneider.

During a second period in which the Devs dominated play, New Jersey tied the game up. Twelve minutes into the frame, Tuomo Ruutu tipped home a shot from D-man Eric Gelinas to make it one-one.

The Caps headed into the third with a man-advantage, needing their power play to once again save them from disaster. It didn’t happen.

Ryan Carter scored a late goal for New Jersey. Devils beat Caps 2-1.

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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.

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The Arguments For and Against Firing Adam Oates

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Photo: Alex Brandon

In Adam Oates’ fourth game as head coach for the Washington Capitals, he put Alex Ovechkin on the top line with Joey Crabb and Jay Beagle. We should have seen trouble coming then.

Later that season, the Capitals narrowly made the playoffs and got booted in the first round. In 2013-14, with a full preseason under his belt, Adam Oates has led the Capitals to their worst season in almost a decade. They’ve got less than a 1-in-10 chance of making the playoffs and an astronomically small chance of doing anything meaningful once they get there.

If you measure the Caps by their shot differential, Adam Oates’ team is closer to the fire-sale 2003-04 team than they are to the scoar-moar-goals heyday of 2008-09. On the other hand, Alex Ovechkin is likely to win yet another Rocket Richard Trophy and the Washington power play is the best in the league.

In this article, I will carefully measure both the arguments for and against the continued employment of Adam Oates as head coach of the Washington Capitals.

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Molly Riley

This photo of Beagle and Ovi celebrating a goal is from 2012. (Photo: Molly Riley)

As reported by Adam Vingan, Alex Ovechkin failed to get a single even-strength point in March. He finished the month in grand style by getting outshot* 15 to 5 against the Nashville Predators. Ovechkin is still the favorite to win the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals scored during the regular season, but when that happens it won’t be because of what’s happening during even-strength play. Ovi’s struggles with puck possession mirror those of the Capitals overall, but what’s happened in the last two weeks is particularly noteworthy.

Since March 16th, Ovechkin has shared the top line with Jay Beagle. Usually a fourth liner, Beagle’s promotion up the ranks has been surprising, though not totally unexpected. Injuries to Mikhail Grabovski and Brooks Laich depleted Adam Oates’ options at the center position. The big road trip in California gave Oates another reason to boost Beagle: splitting up Backstrom and Ovechkin should have created two scoring lines that would have made match-ups harder for home teams.

It didn’t turn out that way. Possession and production among the top six has been scant, and the Ovechkin-Beagle pairing has been the worst of all.

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Photo: John Walton

Per The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera, the Washington Capitals’ brand new toy, Evgeny Kuznetsov, will make his NHL debut tonight on the Capitals’ fourth line tonight. As we discussed on the podcast, that’s probably the smart thing to do.

Here are Adam Oates’ full lines from Katie:

(Laich)-Backstrom-Ovi
Penner-Johansson-Brouwer
Chimera-Fehr-Ward
Kuznetsov-Beagle-Wilson

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The Risk and Reward of Dmitry Orlov and Mike Green

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Photo: Evan Vucci

Thursday night, defense partners Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov were on the ice for two goals against. On Florida’s first goal, Jesse Winchester torched Orlov, blowing past him on the far wall. For the Panthers second goal, the duo left men wide open in front of Braden Holtby before Brad Boyes flipped the puck in.

Sunday afternoon, however, the pair was brilliant — at least for the first 50 minutes. Orlov had the first multi-goal game of his career while Green racked up three assists. It’s usually a zero-sum game with Greenlov: they either win big or lose badly.

Today, though, it was both. With 10 minutes left in game, Orlov went after Brayden Schenn, who had just hit him behind the net. Dima unleashed a brutal board in the corner, receiving a well-deserved five minute major. The Flyers got scored on the ensuing power play. They added two more to stun the Caps in their first game back at home since the Olympic break. Orlov and Green, naturally, were on the ice for the game-tying goal.

“He didn’t change,” head coach Adam Oates said of Orlov’s hit. “He was on the same shift and he went right back after him.”

“You’ve got to suck it up when it’s your turn,” the coach continued. “They hit hard too. They’re big boys too. They’ve got to push, they’re losing. They’ve got to push. We’ve got to be able to handle that.”

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Ovi celebrates his 800th career point. (Photo: Alex Trautwig)

Alex Ovechkin is hitting a lot of milestones lately. So far this season he’s tallied his 1000th professional points, become the franchise leader in power play goals, and scored his 400th career goal. With two goals against the Bruins on Saturday, Ovi hit 800 points. He should hit 50 goals by the end of year too.

“It’s history,” Ovi told reporters after the game. “You always wants to be in the history. You always want to be on top of everybody. I try to do my best, but without my linemates and teammates I didn’t get those kind of points.”

Once again, this underscores the remarkable year Ovi has had. Ovechkin has a stunning 73 regular season goals since February of 2013. Under Adam Oates, Ovi has gone from an oft-criticized washed up star to the best sniper in the game — though, of course, he’s still criticized.

“I feel good about myself,” Ovi said. “I have a good feeling about my shot. Every time when I have opportunity to shoot the puck I’m going shoot.”

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When Team Sweden came out to play for gold this morning, they did so without Nicklas Backstrom. We were told then he had a migraine, which has kept him out of games in the past before. Later we learned Backstrom was prohibited from playing because he tested positive for a higher-than-allowed level of pseudoephedrine, something that was in his allergy medication.

This morning at Kettler Capitals IcePlex, head coach Adam Oates — several days after defending Alex Ovechkin — went to the podium and did it again.

This time he took the IOC to task. There was some head shaking.

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Photo: gp.se

On Sunday night, a large number of NHL stars will board NHLPA chartered flights from Russian to North America. One player who will not be on that flight is Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson.

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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.

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