Capitals general manager George McPhee addressed the media on a variety of topics over the weekend. In Part Two, he addresses the job head coach Adam Oates has done and the development of Alex Ovechkin. For Part One click here.
On whether Adam Oates’ system is built for playoff success: Hope so. Worked real well for New Jersey last year. And we’ve played remarkably well the last couple of months. We had to, obviously, and I hope that we can continue to play that way. That was really something to see. I’m really proud of these guys that they played that way. It was a tough start to the season [2-8-1] as you know, trying to get used to a new system and everything else. And I don’t know that we’ve talked about this enough – and everybody has their injuries – but we started two men down right off the bat before the puck even dropped with [Brooks] Laich and [Dmitry] Orlov out. And then we lost [Jack] Hillen the first night and then you get into the season and you start losing other people – Mike Green and other guys. Next thing you know you’re down five guys a night. That’s a tough way to play in this league. But we got through all that and we’re only down two guys [Joel Ward, Brooks Laich] down the stretch here and have played pretty well.
On if he ever had his own doubts: Well, I was really hopeful that we could get to playing the way we could play. And we hadn’t seen it early on. We’d seen parts of it. But not for a whole game and not back-to-back-to-back-to-back. But we got a little healthier and we started to click. I thought once we got to that .500 threshold that we could really take off and we got close a couple of times and stumbled. I think psychologically I thought once we got there, if we got there, we could take off. And once we got there we did take off.
On the importance of sticking with the plan: Well, you really don’t have any choice. What else are you gonna do? Stick with it and keep working. I had met with the players after the 2-8-1 start and told them, ‘We like the way we’re being coached, we like the team we have here. Just stay with it. Don’t lose faith in it. And we’ll be okay.’ And good for them, they stayed with it. They played hard.
On keeping faith in the coaching staff: Well, Adam [Oates] was really good about it because I didn’t want to lose the coaching staff and I didn’t want to lose the players. And I felt like we had played a couple of real good games and we weren’t rewarded. And I didn’t want them to start thinking ‘Jeez, maybe we’re not good enough, maybe we’re not this. So I remember talking to the coaches one night and I said, ‘You guys keep coaching the way you’re coaching.’ I went down after one of the games – ‘You’re doing a good job here. It’s gonna work out. Don’t lose faith.’ And then I told Adam I wanted to talk to the players and [send] the same sort of message. And he said, ‘Just be positive with them. Because we’ve been positive and they are gonna get this.’ And he was right.
On whether he has seen a coaching staff lose its confidence: Yes, I have seen it before.
On what has surprised him about Alex Ovechin’s turnaround: I don't know if it surprised me, but it was sure nice to see. He's just a fabulous player and he had gotten stale on the left side and got a little bit too predictable. He came into this league just a handful for any team, any player to try and play against. Teams started making adjustments to play him over the years and the game changed a lot over the years in clogging up the neutral zone again, so he had to adjust and Adam helped him with that move over to the right side and you get a lot more penetration on that side now, you get easier exits out of your own zone, you get a guy that can cut through the middle and take it on his forehand coming out of his own zone. Instead of leaving the zone on his backhand, he doesn't go through the middle, he goes up the boards. In a lot of ways, it really helped his game and then Adam's expertise on the power play really helped these guys with the little details on the power play. He made a big difference for that power play. We're back at No. 1 again.
On Ovechkin being willing to make those changes: It says a lot about Adam's ability to convince the player and to communicate properly with him and keep him on his side. When we interviewed Adam this summer, he was convinced that he could make him a better player. It was a big part of choosing Adam. Everybody's going to say that. Everybody's going to say, 'I can get this guy going.' But Adam had the video and the data to back it up. He could show you, 'Look at what we did with this player, look at what we did with this player.' And it worked. He had that. He could show that to Alex as well."
On whether he questioned Oates’ plan to move Ovechkin to right wing: No, because we tried it a couple times [in previous years] for a game or two and it looked better. If we could ever convince him to stay over there he’d be better for it. It says a lot about Alex. You’ve got a two-time MVP and everything else. If your top guys aren’t coachable you have no chance of having any kind of success. He bought in.
On the Caps playing three different systems in two years: I prefer this one. We’ve always wanted to pay an up-tempo game. I know Dale [Hunter] had a different way of playing and there was some value in that, too. Sacrificing and blocking shots and playing hard. I’m glad he brought that and we don’t want to lose that. But I like playing an up-tempo game and trying to pressure the other club and make them make mistakes in their end. I think our system really generates offense. It’s an exciting way to play; it’s a fun way to play for players. It protects defensemen more from physical play. It worked really well for New Jersey last year and we hope to have the same results. New Jersey played one way for a long time and they changed. It was a big change for them and it took them 25 games or so to get used to that and that was with a full training camp and eight preseason games and we didn’t have any of that. When it’s working it’s great.