The Edmonton Oilers have lost seven of their last eight trips to the Verizon Center. The Washington Capitals must continue that trend on Monday night or the chorus of criticism aimed at everyone from the general manager down will get louder.
During this early stage of the 2013-14 NHL season, the 1-4-0 Capitals have looked like a side trying too hard instead of just letting things happen. There have been too many turnovers, lapses in concentration, easy goals against and wayward passes. The Caps’ only win was a shootout squeaker against the Calgary Flames — a victory that head coach Adam Oates has since described as the team’s “worst game.”
Edmonton (1-3-1) is also having a poor start to the season, currently sitting last in the Western Conference standings. On paper, looking at the Capitals’ talent pool, Washington should handily defeat the Oilers. However, nothing has gone to plan yet for the boys in red.
Consequently, there has been some finger pointing in Oates’ direction, but many of his players have come to his defense including D-man Karl Alzner.
“If it was just the players coaching this team, we probably would have been yelling and screaming at each other and trying to work it out that way. But because of the way he [Oates] is, he’s a rock,” Alzner told the Washington Post on Sunday. “He always wants to bring the positive out, and that’s I think why he gets such good results out of some of these guys. He never gets down on anybody.”
Good results? Alzner must be referring to last April. Allowing an average of four goals per game is clearly not “good.” Oates is certainly a good teacher and individual mentor to a lot of his players, but sooner or later, that’s not going to cut it anymore.
The Caps are in danger of repeating their awful 2-8-1 start to last season. General Manager George McPhee gave Oates a break back then — it was Oates’ first season with a new team, after a lengthy lockout situation that shortened the club’s prep time. Nobody should expect McPhee to extend that same kind of courtesy this year.
Superstar Alex Ovechkin is someone who can single-handedly keep Oates on solid ground, but he needs a little help from his friends.
“Of course, we are all disappointed that we have that kind of start but it’s going to break out,” an optimistic Ovechkin said on Sunday. “It’s going to go our way, and we’re going to be fine. We have a great group of guys here, and it’s something we go through.”
In hockey, you’re only as good as your last game. If the Caps destroy the Oilers tonight, that will be the talk of the town — a positive spin on the club to erase the recent negativity. Anything less than a solid victory and all eyes will be on Oates.