Oates learning how to handle unhappy campers

Oates learning how to handle unhappy campers
December 2, 2013, 5:45 pm
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Caps top 5 plays of the week: 12.2.13

(Associated Press)

As a coach, what do you do when two of your players ask to be traded in the same week?

Do you tell them to go home and wait to be dealt?

Do you ignore it and play them anyway?

Do you let them practice but keep them out of your lineup?

Capitals coach Adam Oates had that dilemma placed on his lap last week when forward Marty Erat confirmed he had asked George McPhee to trade him, and the agent for defenseman Dmitry Orlov said trading his client was the only “humane” thing to do after not dressing him for an NHL game this season.

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On Saturday night in Uniondale, N.Y., Oates penciled both players into the Capitals lineup for the first time since those demands were made, putting Erat on a fourth line between wingers Aaron Volpatti, and putting Orlov on a third defense pairing with Tyson Strachan.

Judging from Monday’s practice, that’s how things will stay when the Caps face the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night at Verizon Center [7 p.m. CSN].

“We’re all pros,” Oates said. “Orly wants to prove he can play in the league. Marty wants to prove he can play. If a guy’s unhappy you still have to be able to do your job. [Erat] did. He set up the first goal [by Volpatti]. Orly played good [no goals-against in 13:41 of ice time]. However the team evolves, the team evolves, because the team comes first.”

Oates’ decision to put Orlov into his first game of the season came after defenseman Alex Urbom was benched Friday night against Montreal. Orlov had been recalled by the Capitals five times this season without getting into the lineup, prompting his agent, Mark Gandler, to blame Oates.

“Sitting out, no matter who it is, that person’s not happy,” Oates said. “If he’s happy, there’s something wrong. They’re all unhappy and everybody knows that. Everybody’s conscious of that walking around the room. When it’s your turn, you’ve got to be a pro.”

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Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said he was happy to see Orlov return to the lineup and said he sympathized with the 22-year-old defenseman, who is the only other Russian-born player on the team.

“I think he’s good enough to be here and I hope he’s going to be here,” Ovechkin said. “He goes back and forth [to AHL Hershey] all the time. His girlfriend’s here. It’s hard, but he’s a tough kid. He’ll be all right.”

Oates talked with Orlov on the ice near the end of Monday’s practice and offered him some advice before Saturday’ game on Long Island.

“I just asked him to try to play loose and mentally free,” Oates said. “Obviously, it’s a stressful feeling. I thought he handled it pretty good.”

Oates said Orlov will be back in the lineup Tuesday night “unless something comes up.” He said the biggest reason Orlov was not in the lineup before Saturday night was the concussion he suffered last season and the strong play of rookie defenseman Nate Schmidt this season.

“He was hurt,” Oates said of Orlov. “He never had a chance to prove what he could do. Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game and somebody has to play in your spot and if they play good, what are you going to do? It’s just part of the deal and it happens all over [the NHL] and we’ve all got to understand that.”