As a coach, the Flyers’ Peter Laviolette has walked in Adam Oates’ shoes and understands the challenges facing the Capitals’ first-year coach as he tries to get his team into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Back on Dec. 4, 2009, when he first took over for fired head coach John Stevens with no training camp and zero preparation time, Laviolette went 2-7-1 in his first 10 games behind the bench as his players struggled to adapt to a new, hunt-the-puck offensive system.
Oates was given his own extenuating circumstances, beginning his first year as an NHL head coach with just five days of training camp and seeing his team get off to a 2-8-1 start.
“I think those situations are tough for anybody and certainly when a new coach is putting in a new system, you can benefit from a longer training camp,” Laviolette said Sunday night, prior to the Caps’ 5-4 overtime loss in Philadelphia.
“This season I think there is an advantage for teams like us or other teams like [Detroit], where Mike Babcock has been there for years now, and his system is entrenched in the players, and there’s not a lot of turnover in personnel.”
Following that 2-7-1 start in his first year in Philadelphia, Laviolette coached the Flyers to 26-17-4 record for the remainder of the season. The Flyers got into the playoffs with a shootout victory in the final game of the regular season and streaked all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to Troy Brouwer’s Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
The Caps find themselves in a similar dogfight this season. They’ve gone 14-9-1 since that 2-8-1 start and are within striking distance of the final playoff spot in the East with 13 games to play.
“I look at what Adam’s done, getting these guys back on track and getting themselves in a spot for a playoff push,” Laviolette said. “I think there is a transition period and you can tell now that he’s reaching his top players. Ovi’s playing really well right now.”
Alex Ovechkin has scored nine goals in his last 10 games and has moved into fifth place in the NHL with 18 goals. He ranks first in the league in power-plays goals  and first in shots . During the past 10 games Ovechkin’s average shot totals have jumped from 4.0 per game to 5.5 per game.
“Certainly, he’s found a way to reach him,” Laviolette said, “because anybody who can fire 17 shots and have 10 of them hit the net [as Ovechkin did Saturday night in Buffalo] is doing the right thing.”