F Street Faithful
by Matthew Tate on 04/04/14 at 11:50 PM ET
It is seen as pretty much a foregone conclusion that in two weeks' time the Washington Capitals and Adam Oates will part ways. The hall of famer looks to be leading the team to their first playoff miss since 2007, and looking rather listless in the process. While I was a one-time supporter of Oates, I simply can't argue against his firing. The question that is left, then, is where did things go wrong. What was it that Oates failed to do?
On a very basic level, what hurt Oates so much was his inability to change when needed. The style that you saw the Caps play in game 1 this season did not differ all that much from what we all saw tonight in the loss to New Jersey. Sure, it worked better some nights than others, but it wasn't as if they played differently; just that the style happened to work that night. This style had very clear, and very impactful shortcomings and were felt in every zone of the ice. Here's a brief recap of these issues.
The inability to take control of the slot. Whether in the offensive or defensive zone, we saw the Capitals become complacent with controlling the boards, while letting the opposition have the slot. The results? Failure to produce consistent scoring chances while overly relying on their goaltender to bail them out. The latter became that much harder when you consider the second point
The inability to deal with screens. This is a extension of the first point, but given the implications, it needs to be mentioned on its own. Adam Oates' strategy for screeners was to basically pretend they weren't there. The logic behind this is that by engaging the screener, you double the effect. But that logic is flawed. The actual result,as we saw time and time again, was that the perimeter shots (that GMGM claimed made up the majority of opponent shots) became high quality since the goaltender never was able to see them.
The inability to understand the neutral zone. I can't recall a single time this season when the Capitals were able to effectively navigate the neutral zone for successive periods (let alone games)
The lines. This has been the rally cry of Caps fans everywhere, especially over the past few weeks. We finally see Oates make big changes in the line-up, but it's only to put Alexander Ovechkin with Jay Beagle. Even after seeing Ovechkin's even-strength scoring drought continue, Oates left him with Beagle. All of this happening as the Capitals are fighting for their playoff hopes.
This is nothing new in the world of failed hockey coaches. They believe so much that their system is the correct one - that it's the only system they can coach - that they go down with it. With a resume like Oates', I can't mark this up to general incompetence. There's no way he saw this team fail over and over and see success. You don't have the kind of career Oates had as player without knowing this game. And maybe therein lies part of the problem. When a player has the consistent success that Oates exhibited throughout his career, you have to wonder how they handle failure. As a coach they believe in their system just like they believed in their skill as a player.
When that system falters, it has to be on the players. And yet, trades were made; lines shuffled; minor leaguers recalled. And through all of it, no consistent success was to be found. Every time they seemed to turn the corner, they fell back flat. At some point players stop buying in, and the snowballing continues. And we saw earlier this week what happens when that snowball hits critical mass: a star player gets thrown under the bus.
Really, all of this is discussing the furniture on the Titanic. Whatever the reason, Adam Oates is in his final days as a head coach in this league. The real question is who else becomes collateral damage in the fallout. Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we discuss some of the finer points of this shipwreck.
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Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate. This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals. The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.
In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at York College of Pennsylvania. I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland.
You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.