Oates sticking with lines, but for how long?

Oates sticking with lines, but for how long?
October 11, 2013, 4:15 pm
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At the start of last season, Adam Oates was a lot like the traffic cop in one of the final scenes from Animal House, asking everyone around him to “remain calm” while the Capitals lost nine of their first 11 games.

This season he’s essentially doing the same thing after an 1-3-0 start.

 “I don’t think the record’s fair,” Oates said Friday after keeping his forward lines the same in preparation for Saturday night’s game against the 4-0 Colorado Avalanche [6:30, CSN].

“Last year it was; there were a lot of mistakes. Last night [a 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes] was the least amount of time that we spent in our own end. They had no sustained waves.”

True that.

But just how long is Oates willing to let his top offensive players go before tinkering with his combinations? Through four games Troy Brouwer, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich,  Eric Fehr, Joel Ward and Marty Erat are still searching for their first goals of the season.

By this time two years ago, Bruce Boudreau might have tried nine different line combinations.

“It’s good and bad,” Brouwer said about Oates’ patience. “It’s good because it gives lines more time to try and work things out. But it’s bad because if it’s not working, it’s not working.”

That could be a legitimate point. The second line of Laich, Brouwer and Mikhail Grabovski has not recorded a goal since the season opener in Chicago.

The fourth line of Erat, Tom Wilson and either Jay Beagle or Michael Latta also is looking for its first points.

Oates certainly has viable options for re-working the puzzle. He could move Erat from fourth-line left wing to second-line left wing, dropping Brooks Laich to third-line center between any combination of wingers Jason Chimera, Fehr, Ward or Wilson.

But for now, Oates is sticking to his guns.

“I don’t think it’s a chemistry thing right now,” he said. “I didn’t do it last year. If a guy’s a little snake bit that’s what he’s thinking about.”

Nicklas Backstrom, who has one goal and four assists, said he thinks the Caps are miles ahead of where they were at the start of last season, but believes something more is missing.

“You have to improve your work ethic and then you create chances,” Backstrom said. “I think we need a couple dirty goals so we can get our offense going.”

Asked if he thinks the Caps’ work ethic is where it should be through four games, he said, “I think it can be better, that’s all I’m going to say.”

Alex Ovechkin, who leads the Caps with five goals and seven points, had no goals and one assist in his first four games last season. He also believes patience is on order.

“We have such a good group of guys here who have played together and know what to do,” he said. “It’s going to come. I’m positive about it. Coach trusts us, we trust him.”