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PHT’s Pressing Questions: Can Oates strike the right balance in Washington?

Jan 14, 2013, 12:56 PM EDT

Adam Oates AP

Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.

The Washington Capitals have experienced something of an identity issue.

It’s not fair to call it a crisis — they’ve made the playoffs five straight years, after all — but maybe “conflict” is the right term.

Under Bruce Boudreau, offense reigned supreme until a series of postseason failures. After those, he vowed to make the team more defensively responsible while maintaining its offensive prowess.

Under Dale Hunter, it was all defense all the time. Guys often blocked more shots than they took.

Now it’s up to new head coach Adam Oates to (re?) establish what the Capitals are. Will they get back to Boudreau’s firewagon style, or stick to Hunter’s system?

The answer is “a little of both,” with a lot of teaching and tutorials in between, according to Braden Holtby.

“With Adam, I think everyone learns really quickly that he’s a very good instructor. Some coaches are motivational guys and what-not,” Holtby said. “Adam is very about the details and very technical, and that’s something you really appreciate as a professional because your job is to prepare yourself for games.

“What Adam wants to do is make sure we’re given the instruction to get better.”

Oates is pushing an entirely new strategy — a hybrid system implementing some of Hunter’s defensive techniques and some of Boudreau’s aggressive offensive approach.

In listening to Washington’s players, it seems two things are evident: 1) dump-and-chase hockey is out, and 2) skating, pressure and forcing turnovers is in.

“The system is great,” captain Alex Ovechkin told CBS Washington. “I’m excited. Everybody involved so you can create. It’s not like [dump] and chase like we played [under Hunter]. I’m excited.”

“We’ve scouted and played a lot of teams that play a somewhat similar system – New Jersey, Boston, L.A., Nashville,” added winger Matt Hendricks. “We’re going be a skating team within a very defensive structure. It’s an exciting brand of hockey. We’re going to force teams to turn the puck over.”

‘Skating’ is the buzzword out of Washington these days.

Oates’ emphasis is on pushing tempo and the need for speed, something he explained after icing a new-look top line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin — with No. 8 playing on right wing instead of his usual left.

“Ovi’s a very fast guy, put some speed on the other side,” Oates told the Washington Times. “Everybody’s pretty much played with each other and I think right now our top six can go with each other but I like the look of the line so far.”

The big question now? If enthusiasm and buy-in for Oates’ approach will happen fast enough. The Caps are at a disadvantage with the shortened training camp/season, as it gives them less time to figure out what their new head coach wants.

It’s something Oates recognizes.

“It’s a growing period,” he explained. “Hopefully we’re a strong enough team to get through that. I think we are.

“It’s tough in a short season to get through it, but that’s why you have to work to be good everywhere.”


For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.

  1. rsl22 - Jan 14, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    According to the “bold” prediction on Puck Daddy, the Caps won’t make the playoffs.

    I highly doubt that.

  2. capsfan19 - Jan 14, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Got to attend the training camp yesterday. And i have to say i really liked what i saw so far.
    Under hunter, he preferred to play the overlord type of coach during the practices with his assistants jumping in to make pointers to players. But even though oates is new to the team he was not afraid to approach even the senior players like hamrlik and tell then what he saw wrong/ needed improvement.
    I also saw some extremely dangerous shooting from ovechkin. He took alot of his shots on holtby during the practice session and he looked amazing. Im sure people will read this, roll their eyes, and think “here we go again”, but im telling you he looked real good out there. He was the only player to score consistently on holtby.
    Really liked how ribeiro looked too! He was getting right in there with the boys and seemed real intent on building team chemistry.

  3. sippindasyzurp - Jan 14, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    Is that Ray Liotta in that picture??

    Washington will be dangerous this year, as a Jets fan I look forward to seeing them coming to Winnipeg 3 times this year.

    • bakedbees - Jan 15, 2013 at 4:03 PM

      add a little native face paint, bad pirate attire and some lipstick, voila, Adam Ant

  4. rockthered1286 - Jan 14, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    And there sits the secret weapon on the top line:MoJo. He doesn’t get much praise or credit (outside of MD/DC/NOVA) but trust me when I say Marcus Johannson will be a household name by the end of this season, espeically considering the damage he can do playing with Backstrom and across from Ovi.

    • dipthatchip - Jan 14, 2013 at 2:16 PM

      I don’t know man, he’s got a lot to improve on. I agree that he’s incredibly fast and smooth, but he’s a turnover machine in the offensive zone

  5. ravenscaps48 - Jan 14, 2013 at 1:31 PM

    Washington runs away with the Southeast

    • tbbolts91 - Jan 14, 2013 at 3:20 PM

      ahah, funny…

      • rsl22 - Jan 14, 2013 at 3:57 PM

        Didn’t Tampa miss the playoffs last year by around 8 points?

        I think “runs away with” in a 48 game season might be a bit of a stretch, but I think Tampa winning is also a bit of a stretch. My guess….Washington, Florida, Carolina, Tampa, and Winnipeg.

  6. westof1club - Jan 14, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    Nice to see Oates recognize Brouwer on the 1st line as an impediment to consistent production. Mojo can’t produce with slow footed defensive minded skaters. Now Caps fans can see his true upside playing with skill.

    • rsl22 - Jan 14, 2013 at 2:37 PM

      Agree. He can really help those two by creating space with his speed. We don’t need him to score 30; we need him to free up OV.

      With a guy like Knuble, not to knock the guy, but he was one dimensional. He’d go to the net hard, and that’s a bonus for any team, but it meant that teams were able to predict that and focus more on shutting down OV.

  7. valoisjoeybfeld69 - Jan 14, 2013 at 5:33 PM

    Oates is in a difficult position. He is at the helm of a team that under achieved under the lack of leadership of Boudreau and Ov. Ov is still there and there is much dissension in the locker room. Tough way to start a coaching gig in the NHL.

    • rsl22 - Jan 15, 2013 at 10:34 AM

      And your source telling you there is dissension in the locker room is…?

      Everyone sure seems pretty upbeat right now. I can admit I’m not in the locker room, but from a pretty big fan, I see no dissension. I see a team amped up for a quick start and a new coach who everyone is saying great things about.

      • valoisjoeybfeld69 - Jan 15, 2013 at 3:12 PM

        No sources. Just assessing the team based on experience. New coach, under achieving team, players taking shots at each other via the media during the lockout, lack of a leader and franchise player. To me, and I could be wrong, but this all adds up to failure. Ovi has to go.

      • rsl22 - Jan 15, 2013 at 4:05 PM

        Will never happen. OV is the Caps. The same way Crosby will be a Penguin, Toewes will be a Hawk….players like are the franchise.

  8. hawkeyplayer - Jan 15, 2013 at 7:00 PM

    Boudreau was the best!! he knows how to play his players!!!

    he was also a power forward himself in his AHL days!

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