How do you convince a team that has lost seven of its first nine games that it’s playing well?
That’s exactly where first-year coach Adam Oates finds himself after the Capitals’ 6-3 loss to Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday afternoon in a less-than-appetizing Super Bowl appetizer.
“We’re doing some good things out there and they see it,” Oates said. “The [Penguins] iced the puck 12 times. They had 14 shots [when the score was 5-2].
“I’m more interested in the big picture. Unless I see something crazy in the video that I didn’t notice, they had no chances that we didn’t give them. None. We made a couple mistakes but other than that we played a good solid hockey game. We did a lot of good things.”
That may be true, but the Caps have been outscored 27-17 in their seven losses this season and have a team goal-against average of 3.67, third-worst in the NHL.
They are also in 14th place in the Eastern Conference with five points, seven behind the Penguins, whom they face again Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
Oates gave goaltender Braden Holtby a vote of confidence by giving him his second straight start on Sunday – his first career appearance against the Penguins – and he responded by allowing six goals on just 26 shots.
Oates said he considered pulling Holtby after he allowed Chris Kunitz’ first of three goals 7:33 into the second period, which gave the Pens a 4-2 lead.
“There was a time when I thought about pulling him,” Oates said. “But you know what? The guy was very good for this franchise last year and I thought he earned the right to stay in there and fight through it.”
Holtby had trouble seeing through screens and has looked slow with his glove hand since the start of the season. In four starts he is now 1-3-0 and has allowed 18 goals for a 4.52 goals-against average.
“I mean, there’s been better days,” Holtby said, adding that he should have stopped Kris Letang’s shot, that trickled through the crook of his left arm. “I feel like I’m doing right things and a couple things I’d like to change.”
One thing the Capitals are not likely to be changing is goaltenders. Although Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis was in attendance and speculation swirled that the Capitals might be interested in goaltender Roberto Luongo, Capitals general manager George McPhee said after the game that he has had no trade discussions with Gillis and does not intend to.
Offensively, it was another tough game for Alex Ovechkin, who generated eight attempts at the net, five of which got through to former Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun.
“Vokie played good today,” Ovechkin said. “We don’t give up and that’s the most important thing. It was a challenge. I think it was a good game on both sides. I think if we play the whole game like we did in the third period we win the game.”
Through nine games Ovechkin has two power-play goals and two assists and has only one even-strength point, but Oates said he’s happy with the way his captain is playing.
“I thought he played great,” Oates said. “Way better. More touches, more involved. He’s skating better, more physical.”
With another home game awaiting them Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Oates will spend most of Monday trying to convince his players that if they continue to play the way they did against the Penguins they’ll turn things around.
Wojtek Wolski said the time for figuring out the way to play is over.
“We aren’t looking for tests,” he said. “We’re looking for wins.”