Hockey is back! After a lengthy (and some would argue unnecessary) lockout, the NHL and players finally came to an agreement. Seats will be filled and jerseys will be sold, but for some teams, such as the Washington Capitals, the damage may have already been done. Still, with a new coach, new faces, and intriguing positional battles, the now solely 2013 could still prove both exciting and educational for a young and talented group that was one goal short of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since new coach Adam Oates’ Capitals team did it back in 1998. Here are a few headlines to keep track of in this abbreviated NHL season for the Washington Capitals.
1. How will the team respond to another coaching and system change?
The 2012-13 season has fans excited for many reasons, but it would be irresponsible to ignore the biggest offseason headline; the hiring of Adam Oates. Many Caps fans will be excited to welcome Oates back to the organization, but many know him as the playmaking center, not the coach. So what will his influence be on this Capitals team? In his introductory press conference, Oates was quoted by ESPN.com as claiming “I really feel the game today is territory. You have to establish territory and protect it.”. What Oates will implement is a style of play that is much of a hybrid between the high powered, run-and-gun offense that was installed by Bruce Boudreau, and the tight checking, defensive style established by Dale Hunter. He will attempt to send a strong forecheck with centers and wingers upon opposing teams in their own defensive zone, while instilling a strong commitment to team defense. Oates’ made a name for himself as the assistant coach of the New Jersey Devils by forcing mistakes from opposing teams’ defenseman with an aggressive forecheck. The idea behind this goes back to territory. In recent history, teams that have gone deep into the playoffs have established a presence in their offensive zone via this aggressive forechecking style. Perfect examples of this can be seen through last years Stanley Cup winners, the Los Angeles Kings, their counterparts and Oates’ old team, the New Jersey Devils, and the Boston Bruins . The pressure that these teams created from their forecheck resulted in ill-advised passes from defensemen and created turnovers in the offensive zone, leading to more offense and goals.
Offense and goals are something that Capitals fans would love to see more of from their beloved captain Alex Ovechkin. While 38 goals and 65 points is nothing to snuff at for any player, it was by far Ovechkin’s worst totals for his career and has left fans wondering if the “Great 8” will ever recapture that magic that made him one of the league’s most exciting players. It is believed that a large reason that contributed to General Manager George McPhee’s hiring of Oates had to do with the development of Ilya Kovalchuck’s game in becoming more a more “complete” hockey player. Under Oates, Kovalchuck became a more responsible player in his own defensive zone, even contributing on the penalty kill. He also regained some of the offensive firepower that he was best known for under Oates, seeing his highest offensive output in goals and points since the 2008 season. The hope and belief is that Oates might be able to achieve some of these same results and rejuvenate Ovechkin back to his Art Ross Trophy and two-time MVP form.
With a new, more aggressive style of offense, a commitment to good team defense through solid positional play, and a more complete and offensively potent Alex Ovechkin, Adam Oates may find just the right recipe for success with a Caps team that is desperate for playoff success.