A little more than a year ago, after Capitals general manager George McPhee replaced Bruce Boudreau with Dale Hunter, the Caps responded by losing seven of their first 12 games under Hunter.
Later, players acknowledged there was enough resistance to Hunter’s defense-first, shot-blocking style that a few locker room shouting matches were needed to get everyone on board.
This time around, the players seem willing to embrace Adam Oates’ aggressive system, but after two games the Caps have been outscored 10-5.
How much of that has to do with a new system compared to simply getting outplayed?
“It’s not like we’re re-inventing the wheel or anything,” Capitals left wing Jason Chimera said Wednesday after an optional practice at Kettler. “It’s still hockey. They’re making minor tweaks but it’s not like it’s a whole new system that nobody has ever seen before. We just have to go out and play. There’s really no excuse for what happened [Tuesday] night, that’s for sure.”
In back-to-back losses to the division rival Lightning and Jets the Capitals have been outscored, outshot, outhit and, yes, outworked.
Oates made that very clear in the film room on Wednesday.
“What I showed the guys in the first period was zero system -- zero to do with it,” Oates said. “It was more our execution. If a guy is wide open and we miss him with a pass that’s not a system. So some of it we’ve got to accept responsibility. That’s us. It obviously can be fixed and we tried today.”
Oates said he’s not about placing blame or humiliating a player in the film room.
“I’m all about constructive criticism,” he said.
In those film sessions Oates is preaching the benefits of moving up the ice as a five-man unit, using speed and quick passes to gain entrance into the offensive zone and swarming opponents with a relentless forecheck. In the first two games that has not been evident.
“It seems like we’re getting one guy in there and the other two guys are too far behind and we’re not creating much momentum,” Chimera said. “It becomes more of a dump it in, dump it out, dump it in, dump it out. You’ve got to get a sustainable forecheck. You’ve got to get three guys going in at once and not just one guy. “
To make that happen, Oates said he is contemplating a few personnel changes to his forward lines. Marcus Johansson was pulled off the top line midway through Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to Winnipeg and replaced with Matt Hendricks.
Newly acquired Eric Fehr still is looking for his first chance to play in a game.
The Caps can take solace in the fact that in the last lockout-shortened season, the New Jersey Devils went 0-3-1 to start the season and went on to with the Stanley Cup in 1995. Of course, that was before teams earned a point for overtime and shootout losses.
With a pair of defeats under their belts the Capitals could realize what Yogi Berra already knows -- it could get late very early this season.
“We don’t have any luxury to tread water, we’ve got to get going,” Chimera said. “As I’ve said before, the start [to the season] is going to be crucial and if we fall too far behind … quite frankly, you’re not going to catch up. I think it’s time for desperation.”
Oates already was forced to wait nearly seven months to coach his first game with the Caps. He admits he’s growing a little anxious about getting his first victory. That chance comes Thursday night when the Montreal Canadiens [1-1-0] visit VerizonCenter.
“Yeah, of course, for sure,” Oates said. “I presume that I could win 10 in a row and when you lose that next game that you’re gonna have some anxiety. That’s what you want. I was driving to the rink today and I’m not happy about it, but I wanted that pressure. I want that anxiety. I want to be doing well and feeling that anxiety.”