Hours before earning his first win as an NHL head coach, Adam Oates told his players that if they played the way they did in their 3-2 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils Friday night, he would take 10 losses in a row.
“Because it will turn one time and then we won’t lose.”
Asked if he really believed what he just said, Oates smiled.
“I don’t know if I’m allowed to [lose 10 straight], but the point is, if you play like that it will turn. If you don’t play like that, you can win a game, which obviously you need, but if you win the wrong way that will bite you in the butt later on.
“That is the message.”
That probably explains why Oates was not sipping champagne and doing a goal dance following the Caps’ 3-2 win over Buffalo Sunday afternoon.
Did they play well enough to win? Yes. Did they win the special teams battle with a power-play goal while killing off two penalties? Yes. Did they hold a one-goal lead late in the game? Yes. Did they limit the Sabres to 10 scoring chances? Yes.
“I thought there was a lot more we could have done,” Oates said. “I’m glad we won, for sure. I guess you want to win the right way. There were parts I wasn’t real happy with.
“There are a lot positives, don’t get me wrong. It was a big win for everybody. We just need to make sure the guys stay with it.
“It’s a process. You’re so guarded. We won a game, which of course we need, right? But you worry that we think we’re superstars. We played OK. I thought we played better in New Jersey.”
The Caps enter tonight’s game in Ottawa with a 1-3-1 record after five games. Defenseman Mike Green said the slow start should have been expected considering the Caps are one of just four teams in the NHL with new coaches.
For the record, the Canadiens are 3-1-0 under new coach Michel Therrien; the Flames are 1-2-1 under Bob Hartley; and the Oilers are 3-2-0 under Ralph Krueger.
“What people have to realize is we haven’t played games in seven or eight months,” Green said. “It takes a couple games to get back into it. The teams that have been successful, maybe they’ve had their structures for a longer time and they knew what to do.
“We need to go through the progression of it. Now that we’ve played a couple games we understand the system and the structure and we see that it works.”
The flip side of that, of course, is falling behind in the Eastern Conference standings, where the Caps are already six points behind the conference-leading Bruins.
“You don’t ever want to be known as the last team out of 30 to get a win,” right wing Troy Brouwer said.