As of now, I think it’s safe to say that the Washington Capitals have had an active offseason. Several new additions and a few departures that could change the makeup of this team for awhile.
The most noticeable change has been at the helm when former Capital center, and now Hall of Famer, Adam Oates was announced as the head coach of the Capitals on Tuesday. Oates was a great player throughout his career and played similarly to the way Nicklas Backstrom plays, but he had a much better knack for finding the back of the net. It will be interesting to see the playing style he will bring to the table and if much will even change. Early signs show that Oates doesn’t want to change much from the style of play that Hunter put forth because for the most part, it worked. Oates was on a New Jersey team that didn’t play overly aggressive hockey as it is, rather taking a more defensive approach. However, after watching their efforts against the heavily aggressive Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, it brings a question to mind. Does this playing style work in this day and age? Two of the most noticeable techniques Kings Head Coach Daryl Sutter used were short shifts and a 2-1-2 forecheck. Short shifts are good because the players are always fresh and will have their legs by the third period, but the drawback is the marquee players have less time-on-ice. Sending two forecheckers has always been a favorite coaching ploy of mine when watching hockey because if you have a good forecheck, the opposing team may have trouble even clearing their own zone.
I bring these two coaching tactics up because it obviously worked for the Kings this year, but can it work for the Capitals? Probably not. The Capitals simply don’t have the personnel capable of playing this style of hockey. Short-shifting is a coaching decision and I would like to see Oates employ that startegy, but can he with Alex Ovechkin coming off a postseason regarding his lack of ice time? Probably not. Ever since Ovechkin has taken the C in January of 2010, his numbers have declined drastically for a superstar of his caliber. Has he been used correctly, or is the league starting to figure him out? I tend to agree with the latter of the argument as his playing style is becoming somewhat predictable.
There have been games I’ve watched where I’ve scratched my head wondering not only what the head coach was doing with “The Great 8,” but what Ovechkin was doing himself. I don’t like when Ovechkin doesn’t play on a line with Nicklas Backstrom. He needs that other offensive presence on the line with him in order to get opportunities. At the same time, he tries to create too many ridiculous and spectacular opportunities, that end up getting poked away by defenseman because he’ll either try to bum rush defenders and try to skate into the slot to shoot, or he’ll do a curl and drag up the left-side board and attempt a shot that may hit the goal, but more often then not gets poked or hits the rink ads. Taking a lot of shots is great, if they are quality and on net. Up until these playoffs, Ovechkin has been all about winning. These playoffs showed a side I only saw rumblings of in their 24/7 special for the Winter Classic against Pittsburgh, egotism. Watching interviews of him, I couldn’t help but think of Terrell Owens. The guy has a gold chain with AO8 and he Reebok symbol on it. I realize it’s a brand and he’s told to market himself, but that comes off as selfish. Then, in these playoffs, he criticizes then Head Coach Dale Hunter for the amount of playing time he received, even though he team was winning. Is Ovechkin afraid to sacrifice his own personal accolades for his team? Does he press too hard for his own benefit? How will this affect the team?
In terms of forechecking, I think the Capitals lack the personnel to do it. Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera, Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer come to mind as great forecheckers, but four guys can’t do it. All four lines need to have the capability of doing an aggressive forecheck or else the opposing team will find the hole in the scheme, expolit it, and score. Being a great forechecker means being able to skate all out, all the time and try to win every 50-50 battle possible. The Capitals have athletes, but some of the players lack the will to forecheck and finish defensive plays.
The question remains, will Oates make a difference? I think he’ll bring a new philosophy to the offensive side that will be more creative and require more passing. Maybe not as many shots on goal, but the opportunities will almost always be quality scoring chances. As far as defensively goes, they will have to harp on John Carlson and Karl Alzner once again in the hope that Mike Green and eff Schulz will rebound from sub-par seasons. It will be an interesting offseason, and I will discuss all their moves, once free agency begins tomorrow.