Mini-MailbagPosted on January 23, 2014 by Ben Bruno
Talk the Red asked its readers to submit questions they have about the Capitals that they want answered. I compiled some of the better ones below and if you have questions in the future, feel free to send them our way to be answered in a future mailbag. You can send them directly to me on Twitter @bcubed86, or to Talk the Red on their Twitter (@TalkTheRed) or Facebook page. Now, let's get to the questions.
The Capitals defense plays a much more aggressive style of play under Oates than the team did under former coach, Dale Hunter. Defenders are encouraged to jump-up into the play when the puck is in the offensive zone, and even to carry the puck in themselves, as long as doing so doesn't cause them to be out of position when skating back on defense. Assistant Coach Calle Johansson, who runs the defense for the Caps, stresses doing the little things right on defense and not being worried about having to make a spectacular play. If the defense is able to consistently make the right play, it not only shuts down the offense of their opponents, but in theory, it will lead to scoring opportunities for the Caps. Johansson mentioned this in an interview with Caps blog Russian Machine Never Breaks, saying, "When you do good things defensively and you do things right from the start you're gonna get in the right positions, you're gonna get the scoring chances."
@TalkTheRed what is this teams defensive system under Oates? I want to know so I can tell when they're doing it or not doing it correctly.— Slurms Mckenzie (@VTDuffman) January 17, 2014
While I've disagreed with several decisions that Oates has made this year, the solution to the Caps' problems isn't bringing in a new coach. With the shortened season last year, combined with a little more than half of a season gone this year, Oates has basically one full-season's worth of games under his belt, so it's too soon to pull the plug on him. He's helped invigorate Ovechkin's goal-scoring and gained the trust of the team's captain, but MUCH more needs to be done for this team to succeed, and he should be given the chance to at least try. I'm unaware of the locker room dynamic, but it's possible that because Oates is a "players coach", many guys are too comfortable. Dale Hunter was not the best communicator, but players were more responsible for their actions under him because if you were not playing well, you were benched. I'm not saying that Oates needs to transform into Hunter and start benching players after one bad game, but holding players responsible for their poor play instead of just juggling the lines would be a welcome sight.
@TalkTheRed do u think its time to bring in a proven coach? This team has not performed for these rookie coaches since Bruce was sent away— Brian Sweigart (@bsweigart1999) January 22, 2014
Plenty of people are calling for McPhee to be replaced. He's been with the Caps since 1997, making it impossible for him to avoid any responsibility for their problems and lack of success. Ever since the "core" of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green have been together, the Caps have made coaching changes around all three, yet the results have basically been the same. There was the "run-and-gun" style under Bruce Boudreau, the "defensive-minded" style of Dale Hunter, and the current, somewhat blend of the two under Oates, yet the results aren't any better. McPhee has also brought in a carousel of surrounding players, with minimal differences in the outcome season-to-season, so it's time to start questioning who's actually at fault. I'm not advocating trading Ovechkin or Backstrom, but an evaluation of why the Capitals have not had success beyond simply making the playoffs needs to be made. Those wanting McPhee gone can argue that he's the one selecting the players around the "core," and since the results have been less than desirable, he's at fault. McPhee has certainly been trying to work things out, bringing in a wide range in players (from grinders like Knuble to snipers like Semin), but nothing seems to work. He may also have hamstrung himself by giving out some questionable long-term, expensive contracts that have severely limited the team's financial abilities. Maybe this is a long-winded way of saying that the questioner makes a valid point that will have to be addressed sooner rather than later.
I've said this before but I'll say it again. I believe in the talent on the Caps' roster, but they need to start playing with some fire and urgency. The phrase "lack of drive" and "Capitals" has gone hand-in-hand over the past few seasons and it's consistently their biggest problem. Sure, the defense can play better, and maybe now that the goalie situation has been somewhat resolved the play there will improve, but until I see the Caps consistently come out with some spark and look like they actually care if they win or lose, it could be awhile before this "mess" stops.
@TalkTheRed as fans what should we look for to see improvement? They just look like a mess out there, how will I know when that's stopping?— Slurms Mckenzie (@VTDuffman) January 22, 2014
The Capitals are in the middle of a story that we've read before, and if the outcome this time is the same, we won't be surprised. In recent years the Caps have played mediocre hockey at the start of the season, often leading to a long losing streak in the middle of the year and forcing the team to "put it all together" and make the playoffs right at the end of the season, only to then get eliminated early in the playoffs. Like I said, the story seems to be replaying itself this season, and while Oates and McPhee can certainly have a positive effect on the team's play, at this point in the season it's up to the players themselves to make sure that the ending to the story is different from years past.
If you have questions about the Caps, hit me up on Twitter @bcubed86 or the TalkTheRed Crew @TalkTheRed and I'll answer them in a future mailbag.