All about Coach Oates, special teams, goaltending, Milbury's big fat mouth and more in this week's edition of Capital Ideas - debate, discuss, enjoy!
- Last week's mini-series against the New Jersey Devils gave Caps fans a good look at what Adam Oates is trying to accomplish here in DC, but it's not just about the system he's putting in place - Oates is clearly trying to instill a culture, an identity for the team that extends beyond a single season. As Oates himself put it, "every single night the car is going to run itself and we just have to make sure we don’t derail it." The Devils were once famously described by Colin Campbell, then the coach of the Rangers, as being a team of interchangeable parts - and while it wasn't meant as a compliment, there's something to be said for having expectations set regardless of who is on the roster. And for a team that has perhaps been lacking in this area (or maybe has adopted the wrong culture/identity over time), the idea that Oates could come in and establish some sort of consistency - not just from game to game but from year to year - is one that should be appealing to Caps fans, particularly given the lasting success the Devils have had.
- After posting the second of back-to-back wins Tuesday night - and doing so in impressive fashion - Coach Oates pointed out that his players were maybe 60-70% of the way to getting the system down. Said Oates, "it's still not automatic all the time. We have waves of it where it looks automatic, but then we shoot ourselves in the foot a little bit." If it didn't seem like a reasonable comment to make at the time, it certainly does the morning after being treated to that remaining 30-40%, doesn't it?
- Not for nothing, but it's worth noting that the Caps had seven preseason games scheduled for the 2012-13 season. Now obviously not everyone plays in all of those games and there are other extenuating circumstances, but if you lop off the first seven games of this season, here's where the Caps stand:
* Outscoring opponents 3.08 to 2.83 goals per game
* 34.2% on the PP and 78.0% on the PK
* Getting more than a point per game out of Ovechkin
Granted, that's an incredibly favorable way to look at things (and the numbers looked even better before last night's fiasco), but it's also not entirely fair to judge them on the season-to-date numbers, either, given the coaching change. So there's reason to buy that they're getting better, and given the roster, it may not be too long before we buy that Adam Oates might be on his way towards being a pretty good coach.
- The Caps' special teams differential has been one of the sticking points so far this season. The 79 times they've been shorthanded puts them at the 8th-most penalized team in the NHL, compared to the 66 times their opponents have been sent to the box. And while it's easy (and fun) to put on the tinfoil hat and claim referee bias, or to point to the penalties as the one problem facing this team, the reality is that this differential is more a symptom than a disease, and that disease is lack of possession. When the Caps have dominated possession, like they did against Carolina Tuesday night, they take fewer penalties because they're not chasing - they're being chased. When they don't, as was the case in the first New Jersey game last Thursday, the parade to the penalty box is usually inevitable... last night's loss the exception to that rule.
- Having said that, it's a trend that seems to be turning around (or at least has slowed up of late). Since the unraveling against the Devils a week ago, the Caps have played three games and have been penalized a grand total of eight times. Further to that point, last night was just the third game they've lost all season in which they've taken three or fewer penalties... and while it didn't help (particularly since they gave up two power play goals), being in the sin bin certainly wasn't why they lost last night.
- The way Braden Holtby's been playing recently, there probably weren't many people out there who were expecting to see Philipp Grubauer make his NHL debut last night - but reality cares not for what you least expect. And so after giving up four goals to the Flyers, there was Braden Holtby, with a supportive stick tap, yielding the net to Grubauer halfway through the game. Grubauer was terrific in relief, too, turning aside all fourteen shots he faced to salvage a little bit of dignity in an otherwise embarrassing game. The smallest of sample sizes, sure, but a promising start for yet another talented young goalie in the Caps' organization.
- By the way, Grubauer became the eighth goalie to step between the pipes for the Caps since the departure of longtime franchise goalie Olie Kolzig back in 2008 - he joins Cristobal Huet, Brent Johnson, Jose Theodore, Semyon Varlamov, Tomas Vokoun, Michal Neuvirth and of course Holtby as current or former Caps' netminders in the last five years.
- Since the first loss to Pittsburgh on Super Bowl Sunday, the Caps have lost three, won three, lost two, won two, lost one. Time to start a new pattern, boys... and pass the Dramamine.
- You might recall a little incident involving some comments made by Troy Brouwer prior to the return of Alexander Semin which may have insinuated that Semin was, perhaps, not the most consistent or dependable teammate. I find situations like this can be tricky to deal with as a fan. There's the sense that certain things should be kept behind the closed doors of the locker room instead of being aired publicly, particularly when it makes our team or our player or one of our former players look bad... and yet we constantly bemoan the lack of personality and honesty and candid opinions among the current crop of NHLers, complaining that they're all just cliche-spewing robots. Throw in the typical fan instinct to want to support the guy who wears your team's jersey over the guy who doesn't and it gets more complicated. Speaking from a personal standpoint, that fan loyalty is perhaps why I found it easier to defend Semin and vilify Matt Bradley the last time this happened, while this time around I'm leaning more toward Brouwer. Interesting phenomenon.
- Speaking of interesting phenomenons, it's amazing how strongly people (of both genders, don't pin this one all on us gals) felt about John Carlson's hair this year, and how much rejoicing there was in CapsNation when he finally got it cut a few days ago. People haven't talked about a haircut this much since Keri Russell chopped off her locks on Felicity... hey, there's a current pop culture reference for you.
- Random fact - Alex Ovechkin's hat trick last Saturday was the eleventh of his career, but it was his first against the Devils and only the third time a Capital has scored a hat trick against New Jersey since the 1987-88 season (first since 1990). With his trio of goals over the weekend, Ovechkin joined Mike Ridley and Dave Christian as the only Caps to accomplish this feat... not surprisingly, none of the three hat tricks came against Martin Brodeur.
- Better team performance - Saturday's 5-1 win over the Devils or Tuesday's 3-0 win over the Hurricanes?
- And while we're asking questions... which is more surprising, that Nicklas Backstrom only has two goals or that John Erskine already has two goals?
- When it comes to blowhards spewing nonsense on a regular basis, no one can top the magical Mike Milbury... and few can touch his thinly veiled contempt for Alex Ovechkin. So it came as no surprise that he spent most of the second intermission last night railing against Ovechkin's performance - but it is frustrating. Not because he was criticizing Ovechkin, and not because Ovechkin doesn't occasionally deserve criticism. Our frustration lies in the fact that Milbury ignores what has been a very good stretch of games by Ovechkin to focus on one bad one (in which Ovechkin was hardly the only one struggling) and does so in front of a national audience, some of whom will see only Milbury's rant and believe that this undeserved, inaccurate characterization of Ovechkin is true.
- "Overheard" on Twitter - just a sampling of what has to be the best live-tweeted train ride EVER: