The question is: "What has Adam Oates brought to the Washington Capitals, Alex." It's been three weeks since my last blog post, and that's what I've noted most during my "Hockey Musings" over the last three weeks, and the last eight games the Capitals have played. Since we had to see the return of the "Cardiac Kids" to overcome Tampa Bay on April 13th, all I've seen from the Washington Capitals is the even keeled drive and determination that exudes from their Hall of Fame coach every day. Its clear that in Adam Oates' mind and that of his players, it ain't over until its over, and when its over some group of happy players gets to raise Lord Stanley's Cup. It's also clear that as far as all of them are concerned, the Fat Lady hasn't even gotten onto the plane to fly into town yet on that one.
Looking at the Capitals' body of work the last two weeks of the regular season and the first week of the playoffs, one thing is certain, the Capitals are mentally ready for the long battle that a deep run into the playoffs takes. That said, the first thing they need to do is beat the New York Rangers two more games and as noted over at Scotty Hockey: "The saying goes that a playoff series isn't over until a team loses at home." The Capitals kept that from happening to them yesterday and make no mistake about it, Saturday's 1-0 victory over the Rangers was a game where the first team to make a critical mistake lost, in fact in overtime it took two critical mistakes in a row by the Rangers, for the Capitals to win. And that was after we had a nail biting two minutes with the Capitals on the Penalty Kill themselves, a sequence where the Capitals didn't make that critical second mistake in a row to end up with a home loss in overtime. That's an example why I'm saying what I'm saying about Character, Persistence, and Professionalism. Another reason is exemplified by the comments from the Capitals players after the game, humble, sedately pleased, but self-examining and critical of their own play and where and how they could have played better. They know they are professionals, and as such high levels of skill, execution, and energy are expected of them; that's a change from the post game comments after a victory in recent years past. It's totally in keeping with their comments all season long though, these guys are following a team leader named Alex Ovechkin, but he is following the example of a coach he clearly truly respects, and whose respect he wants to earn every game. And why not? This guy, Adam Oates, is a professional, and an adult, and that's the way he treats his players. He and his staff may also be the absolute best coaching group the Capitals have ever had as well. Just look at the adjustments between AND during games these guys identify and explain to the team in a way that they can implement - that's a huge difference from recent years past.
How important are character and persistence at this time of year, you might wonder, I mean as opposed to talent. For my two cents, they are everything. When you are down to the top 16 teams in the highest level league in the world in a tournament for the championship of your sport, every team is very talented and very confident, the difference is who wants it more and who is willing to overcome occasional bad bounces and adversity to go and get it. Illustrative of my point is the fact that as of the hour and date of this post, every playoff series in process except the Caps vs. Rangers and the Sharks vs. Canucks is such that each team playing has at least one win. Minnesota - Chicago clearly makes the point, the Blackhawks after tearing through the regular season lead the series over the Western Conference eighth seed 2-1, however two of the three games have been decided by just a singly goal. And how about San Jose - Vancouver or the Capitals/Rangers series? Well sure the Sharks and Caps are both up 2 games to nil, however in each series the last game required overtime to be settled; again once you get into overtime, either team could win, as it's usually "first mistake" looses. So again I say, at this time of year character, persistence and professionalism, are pretty much - everything.
So that's why I'm very pleased that Adam Oates is coaching "my team" - the Washington Capitals. I can't wait to see how the 2013 Capitals handle their first playoff game of 2013 at Madison Square Garden tomorrow evening.