Oates looking for tighter defensive play

Oates looking for tighter defensive play
October 31, 2013, 6:00 am
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10.30.13: Caps week in review

Adam Oates is convinced the Capitals have enough offensive firepower to win hockey games. It’s their defensive responsibility that concerns him most.

Through 12 games the Caps are averaging 2.67 goals per game, which ranks 17th in the NHL. They’re allowing 3.17 goals per game, which ranks 26th.

“We’re going to score goals; that’s not going to be our problem,” Oates said. “To win in this league on a regular basis, you gotta keep them out.

“The better we get in our own end it’s going to help the goalies and it will show up on the [offensive] side. It’s still taking us too long to get out of our end and because of that your guys are tired.”

Much of that can be attributed to a revolving door of defensemen. When Dmitry Orlov suits up against the Flyers Friday night in Philadelphia he’ll be the 10th defenseman to play for the Caps, joining John Carlson [12 games], Karl Alzner [12], Mike Green [12], Steve Oleksy [10], Nate Schmidt [8], John Erskine [7], Alex Urbom [6], Connor Carrick [3] and Jack Hillen [2].

Green, who was pulled from the top pairing with Karl Alzner, has been on the ice for 18 goals for and 15 against. John Carlson, who has been reunited with Karl Alzner, has been on the ice for seven goals scored and 14 against.

But much of the Caps’ defensive struggles can be pinned on their forwards. Alex Ovechkin has been on the ice for 18 goals for and 13 against. Same with Nicklas Backstrom. Linemate Marcus Johansson has been on the ice for 12 Capitals goals and 11 against.

“They have to be counted on to play well in their own end as well because they’re going to be matched up against the best lines every night and the best D,” Oates said. “They have to be good in their own end because otherwise they’re going to get hemmed in and they’re frustrated players if they’re hemmed in.”

When the Caps hit the ice on Wednesday, Johansson was on a second line with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, which means if Ovechkin is cleared to practice on Thursday he could be on a top line with Backstrom and Marty Erat.

“We need to make sure our skill is working hard,” said Brouwer, who has been on the ice for 13 goals for and six against.

Brouwer shares that team-best plus-7 differential with linemate Mikhail Grabovski, who has been on the ice for 14 goals by the Caps and seven by opponents. By comparison, Brooks Laich has been on the ice for five goals for and 11 against, and Eric Fehr has been on for two goals for and 11 against.

“Our defensive play still has to be better,” Oates said.