Are the Caps playing better than their record?

Are the Caps playing better than their record?
October 13, 2013, 1:30 pm
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Caps buried by Avalanche, 5-1

(Associated Press)

Take this any way you want, but after 12 hours of reflection the Capitals were not nearly as angry about their 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche as they were immediately after the lopsided defeat, when they challenged each other’s work ethic.

You can thank Adam Oates for that.

Instead of practicing today at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Oates met with his players, showed them video and tried to emphasize that they played far better than Saturday night’s score indicated and that they are better than their 1-4-0 record suggests.

“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,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said.

“But because of the way he is, he's a rock. He always wants to bring the positive out, and that's why he gets such good results out of some of these guys. He never gets down on anybody and that's really, really important for an athlete. He definitely changes the mood and he can control it really well.”

Don’t be mistaken. There were plenty of mistakes that led to an Avalanche of goals Saturday night. Michal Neuvirth was shaky, allowing five goals on 28 shots. The top line of Alex Ovechkin [minus-3], Nicklas Backstrom [minus-3] and Marcus Johansson [minus-2] recorded nine shots but was a defensive liability.

The Caps were also victims of another slow start, allowing two first-period goals. They’ve been outscored 8-3 in first periods this season.

After the loss, several veteran players – namely Troy Brouwer, Marty Erat and Eric Fehr -- questioned the Capitals’ work ethic.

But when he gathered his players on Sunday morning, Oates took a different approach. He pointed out the Caps spent 28 minutes in Colorado’s end and 8 minutes in their own. He told his players they entered the offensive zone 110 times, well above their previous high of 70.

He didn’t challenge their work ethic or their will to win because he believes that would have been a lie – and that’s not what he would have wanted to hear as a player.

In fact, when asked about being Mr. Positive, Oates gave this soliloquy on Sunday:

“When I played, if I had that game last night, I showed up for work. I feel the guys showed up for work [Saturday night]. If I showed up for work and we lose, I don’t want to be yelled at. I want to be coached. Tell me the truth. If you think I played a bad game, that’s fine, but tell me the truth. Don’t make something up because then I lose faith in you. I don’t want to be that guy. I do not want to tell them a lie. I’ll tell them when I think they make mistakes. We show guys individually all the time. And collectively, if we think we had a stinker we’ll tell them. Like Calgary [the Caps’ only victory] was our worst game probably, right? But I’m not going to lie to them, no way, because I think guys see through that, too. Maybe they come in expecting to be yelled at because we lost; it’s just not my style. I think I can look a guy in the eye and he knows I’m not happy with him, but you know what? Last night we did a lot of good things. The score’s not going our way, things aren’t going our way. We gotta be better.”

Defenseman Mike Green said he believes the Caps are working hard enough and the words chosen by Brouwer, Erat and Fehr were products of an emotional loss.

“I think the work ethic is there,” Green said. “You can always work harder. Just when you think you’re working hard there’s somebody else working harder. We’ll address that and we’ll regroup tomorrow.”

On Monday the Caps continue their five-game homestand against the Edmonton Oilers, who are off to a 1-3-1 start and are coming off Saturday night’s 6-5 overtime loss in Toronto.

Oates said he will decide on Monday whether he should keep his forward lines intact or switch things up in search of a spark since the Caps have just four goals in their last three games.

“I don’t think we have panic mode right now,” said Ovechkin, who was held without a point for the first time this season. “Of course, we not happy, it’s no doubt. But we going to win tomorrow and everything going to be on our side.”

For today, Oates wants his players to put their feet up, watch some football and return to Kettler Monday morning ready to end their three-game losing streak.

“That takes a lot out of you when you lose a game like [Saturday],” Alzner said. “A team that's undefeated and they come and kind of clean you up pretty good. It's not really good for the head, so I think that's the benefit, just kind of forgetting about it, do what you do on a day off, enjoy the Sunday, and just kind of reset the batteries.”