Adam Oates: "It was a good hockey game"
On Friday, before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Rangers and Capitals, New York coach John Tortorella was asked about the conditioning level of the injured players returning to the Rangers lineup.
“If we don’t win, we’re done,” he said. “So I don’t give a damn about the conditioning.”
The next day, following the Capitals’ 1-0 overtime win that gave them a 2-0 lead in the series, Tortorella was asked about the Rangers’ power play, which went 0-for-3 and is now 0-for-7 in the series, which resumes Monday night in New York.
“We’re just too stagnant,” Tortorella replied. “We’re almost paralyzed.”
Negativity, even when it’s unintentional, is a part of Tortorella’s combative personality.
Adam Oates chooses a different tact.
In the second period of a scoreless game on Saturday, Caps left wing Marcus Johansson was the recipient of a smart, back-door pass from Alex Ovechkin. With a gaping net staring at him, Johansson hesitated, then fired the puck over the net and into the netting above the glass.
The entire building groaned in frustration as Johansson looked to the heavens.
Moments later, as Johansson sat dejectedly on the bench, Oates walked up behind him, leaned over, and whispered, “Let it go.”
“When he misses that chance from Ovi, I know that feeling,” Oates said Sunday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where seven Capitals took part in an optional practice before a 2:30 p.m. flight to New York.
“The whole crowd, the anxiety afterwards [of Johansson thinking] ‘What did I just do?’ I was just trying to lighten the moment a little bit because you’re going to get another [scoring chance] in a minute possibly, and you can’t let that affect you for the next play.
“It’s hard,” Oates sad. “You’re at home and 20,000 people just went, ‘Awww!’ It’s stress. He was sitting in front of me and I just whispered something in his ear, just trying to make him happy. Obviously, I want the goal, too. You don’t think Marcus wanted it?”
Since his first day on the job Oates has tried to accentuate the good things his players have done – even when they got off to a 2-8-1 start - while constructively trying to resolve the mistakes they’ve made on the ice.
Center Jay Beagle, one of two players [Jack Hillen] who elected to practice Sunday after playing the day before, said Oates’ approach does not go unnoticed.
“It’s been great all year having him be so positive,” Beagle said. “Normally, you’d be afraid to go to a coach and ask him what you did wrong. You can almost lean on him and go to him with questions. It’s been huge.
“The first game [a 3-1 win] we went down a goal and it was all positive on the bench. That’s what you need in the playoffs. You can’t get negative with each other.”
Oates said he encouraged his players to relax after Saturday afternoon’s overtime win and gave them the option of getting on the ice on Sunday. Aside from Beagle and Hillen, backup goalie Michael Neuvirth and healthy scratches Wojtek Wolksi, Aaron Volpatti, Jeff Schultz and Tom Poti also skated on Sunday.
“Even though it was an afternoon game, it was a stressful night,” Oates said. “You win in overtime and you’re excited but it’s still very stressful. So we let the guys breathe a little bit.”