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Fine-Tuning Details The Focus For Capitals’ Tuesday Home Opener
By ZAC BOYER | email@example.com
ARLINGTON – Despite having only a week to understand the demands of Adam Oates’ style of play, the Washington Capitals wanted to show their new head coach on Saturday that they understood what was being asked of them.
What they instead demonstrated was that it may take a bit of time to fully iron out all the wrinkles.
“Guys want to make a good first impression,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “They want to do exactly what they’re supposed to do, and sometimes you’ve just got to make a read, make a hockey play and forget about what your system is.”
The Capitals fell 6-3 to Tampa Bay in the season opener on Saturday, exposing their lack of familiarity with Oates’ system with a variety of miscues. As they host Winnipeg in the home opener at Verizon Center on Tuesday, they do so with an eye on smoothing out their deficiencies.
Several of their shortcomings came from paying too much attention to detail – trying to remember, for example, where the coaching staff would like someone to be playing as opposed to simply anticipating or reacting.
Defensemen, now given the freedom to join in transition, were often caught in the neutral zone and surrendered odd-man rushes. A reconfigured penalty kill unit, unsure of its responsibilities, surrendered three goals.
“Sometimes, it kind of goes against your instincts of what we’re trying to do right now, but they’re all things you have to re-learn,” winger Troy Brouwer said. “They’re all things that you have to make sure that you implant in your mind and make sure that they’re second-nature and muscle memory now rather than thinking.”
A general lack of ice time didn’t help, either. The Capitals were called for eight penalties, each by a different player, as a lack of conditioning contributed to lackadaisical and half-hearted play.
The Lightning gained a five-on-three advantage at the start of the third period after a pair of tripping calls on Mathieu Perreault and Nicklas Backstrom, leading to the go-ahead goal by Martin St. Louis just 4:22 in.
“It’s a short training camp and a short season,” said center Mike Ribeiro, who had two assists in the opener. “The players [have] to review those things mentally and just go through them in your mind, so when [we’re] together, you don’t have to think about it. That’s something we have to do as a team. I think both sides are the same, but at the end of the day, special teams and discipline nowadays will win games and make you lose games.”
The changes under Oates most directly affect Alex Ovechkin, who played the most amongst all forwards with 23:35 of ice time but took only four shots – all in the first period. A move to the right wing, where he has played only sparingly over his previous seven seasons in Washington, proved to be more of an adjustment Saturday than he thought.
“Sometimes when you have that kind of opportunities and you on the right side, you just want to go all the time on the left side,” Ovechkin said. “You know, sometimes Backie have the puck and I have to go straight, but I go behind him and try to be on the left side. … If I go straight, maybe it’s going to be much better chances for me, but if I just go to left side and Backie slide puck, pass to right side, I’m not there.”
Winnipeg, like Tampa Bay, didn’t have to adjust to a new head coach or different style of play in the days since the lockout ended. The Capitals, meanwhile, will have to adjust every game – a dangerous situation, given the loss of 34 games in a condensed schedule.
“We talked about that all week, and we’re going to try and do our best to get that out of their minds,” Oates said.
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