Oates on Ovechkin: 'You can't criticize one guy'

Oates on Ovechkin: 'You can't criticize one guy'
February 19, 2014, 5:00 pm
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(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Capitals coach Adam Oates wanted nothing more than to see Alex Ovechkin win a gold medal in front of his family and friends in Sochi, Russia.

But in the back of his mind, Oates wondered if the style of play employed by the Russians would make it possible for the Capitals’ captain to play his best hockey.

“I threw something at the TV, I was so mad, and it had nothing to do with [Ovechkin],” Oates said Wednesday, after watching Russia eliminated by Finland 3-1, ending its hopes for an Olympic medal.

“It’s the way the game was being played over there. I was very frustrated because I could just see it evolving for him. Nothing was working for them. They looked discombobulated, no cohesiveness. [NBC analyst] Mike Milbury said that and I agreed with that point wholeheartedly.”

That’s why Oates had trouble with the comments made by Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov following Wednesday’s defeat.

"Tough to explain the loss, of course, why scored so little,” Bilyaletdinov told reporters. “Players who score so many goals for their clubs, like Alex Ovechkin who scored 40 goals for his club … Right now I cannot explain that.”

If you have an hour or so, Oates can probably provide a good explanation.

“You can only control the way you play, right?” Oates said. “You can’t control the way the team plays or how it evolves. Obviously, it’s not the ending they wanted, but this is the third Olympics in a row they haven’t medaled, so it’s not on one guy. It’s on the group and at some point I’ll have a chance to talk to [Ovechkin] about that.

“That’s why you can’t criticize one guy. It’s easy from the cheap seats. In fairness to them, they had the most pressure because it’s the host country.”

Oates said he does not know when Ovechkin will return from Sochi. The Caps plan on practicing through next week, with players given the day off on Monday, before returning to game action on Thursday  Feb. 27 in Florida.

“When he’s in the mood we’ll talk about it,” Oates said. “I’ve already taped a couple of his games to show him what I like and what I don’t like about what I saw, because I also have my own opinions about the game and how he plays for us.

“I’ve always tried to establish with him a rapport so we’re on the same page and how him being successful allows us to be successful and vice versa.

“Obviously, there’s a period of mourning for the guy. I would hope that everybody who’s a Cap fan feels for him because he’s a big part of us.”

With so much hype being heaped on Ovechkin before the Olympics, Oates said he appreciated the fact Ovechkin was the first Russian player to speak to the media.

“That’s how I want him to handle it,” Oates said. “That’s being a pro and a man, right? If you’re going to accept the accolades, you’ve got to accept he criticism.

“I’m not worried about him when he gets back here. Obviously, I feel bad for him right now, as I’m sure everybody does. He did a great job of handling it and obviously, he did his best.”

Oates pointed out that Russia’s Ilya Kovalchuk scored a pair of goals because opponents double-teamed Ovechkin backdoor, making sure that if Russia was going to beat them, Ovechkin wouldn’t be the one doing it.

Ovechkin scored 77 seconds into Russia’s opening 5-2 win over Slovenia, then went the next 308 minutes, 43 seconds without scoring a goal. But Oates pointed out that after four games, Canada’s Sidney Crosby is still looking for his first goal.

“I’ve got to be careful because it’s easy from the cheap seats,” Oates said. “Everyone thought it was going to be high scoring hockey with the bigger rink, but it’s not. It’s hard to score goals and it was hard for [the Russians].

“I think their team in general, Ovi included, did not look like they figured out a way to go north,” Oates said. “They turned the puck over too much in the neutral zone. They were willing to play their structure of hockey. That’s the way they play and they’re totally entitled to play the way they want.

“It’s hard in an environment when you have one practice. To me, that team looked like a team that didn’t have chemistry on it. They never seemed to sort it out. That’s not on any one guy or the coach. It just seemed like they never got their groove.”