Is Oates contemplating lineup changes?

Is Oates contemplating lineup changes?
January 23, 2013, 12:30 pm
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Is it time to worry about these Caps?

With a compressed week of three games in four days, Capitals coach Adam Oates gave his players an optional skate on Wednesday and five of his players opted to sit it out.

Forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski and defenseman Mike Green sat out the practice.

Under the new CBA, coaches must schedule regular days off for players and cannot erase those days off as punishment for poor game performances.

After surrendering 10 goals in his first two starts, look for Braden Holtby to be replaced by Michal Neuvirth on Thursday night when the Montreal Canadiens visit VerizonCenter.

Oates said Holtby looked like he was “fighting the puck” on Tuesday and is “a little concerned” by the 22-year-old netminder’s shaky start.

Neuvirth, 23, has a career mark of 4-1-0 with a 1.82 GAA and .939 save percentage against the Habs.

Better blocking: Last season Dale Hunter stressed the importance of shot blocking and through two games the Caps seem to have forgotten that importance.

That was evident on the Jets’ fourth goal Tuesday night when Wolski failed to get in the way of a point shot by Dustin Byfuglien that was deflected by Jim Slater past Holtby.

“On that one goal we had the ability to block that shot,” Oates said. “When the guy’s there I expect him to block it.”

Opponents’ view: Jets forward Blake Wheeler was not about to throw stones at the Capitals and their first-year coach, but he said he can only imagine what it’s like to implement a new system with just six days of training camp.

“It’s definitely tough,” Wheeler said. “They’ve gone through I don’t know how many coaches – two or three in the last year and a half. Having a familiar system and familiarity with what the coaches expect out of you is a huge thing.

“I think that’s why our team is better off this year than we were last year because we know what’s expected of us.”

Oates is one of just four NHL head coaches trying to implement a new system with a new team. He is also the only first-year head coach in the league. That makes things especially difficult when you consider Oates also has two assistant coaches – Calle Johansson and Tim Hunter – with no prior history with these Capitals.

That means new schemes in the defensive zone, the neutral zone, the offensive zone, the penalty kill and the power play. That’s something the Jets, now 1-1-1, had to go through last season under first-year coach Claude Noel.

“The thing I’m most happy about is the fact that our players are recognizing the way we need to win and the work we did last year to build a foundation,” Noel said.