There remained a remarkable consistency to the Washington Capitals’ game Thursday night, whether they were trailing by a goal or up by two.
Washington’s performance in Game 1 showed a team that, after 48 games spent learning and honing Coach Adam Oates’s style of play, is confident in its abilities. And in the Stanley Cup playoffs, there may be no greater strength of a successful team than the knowledge that all they need to do is stay the course.
At the very least, it makes for a smooth transition to the intense postseason landscape.
“Obviously the playoffs are a little different, the intensity is a little higher,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “You’ve got to make sure we stick with it. We have a game plan, we have a system and we got to make sure we follow that.”
Last year it took the start of the postseason for the Capitals to completely click with Dale Hunter’s shot-blocking and mind-numbingly passive style. The willingness of every player to fling themselves in front of an oncoming shot and protect a lead with every last breath became self evident in the playoffs where that was far from the case in the regular season.
This year, though, the team that dominated the New York Rangers for much of Game 1 looked quite similar to the one that found its footing in Oates’s system in the final month and a half of the regular season.
“We rely on our structure so much and our system, and when we play it we give ourselves a chance to win every night,” Mike Green said. “There’s no need to change anything or do anything different. It’s playoffs; if there’s a chance to block a shot you do it, but other than that we stick to the same thing we’ve been doing all season.”
That may be one of the most undervalued aspects of Oates’s system, which is designed to work not only in the playoffs but to create a balanced approach that is sustainable over the course of a full regular season. Heading into the 2012 playoffs the Capitals went 6-4-2 to close out the regular season. This year they went 10-1-1 in the final 12 games to secure the Southeast Division title and No. 3 seed in the East and are able to continue rolling along that path.
Oates and the Capitals will continue to adjust certain situational strategies throughout the postseason depending on the opponent, but at this point they don’t want to be making any significant changes.
“I don’t think any team changes their structure now. No way. You work all year long to do something. You don’t change it,” Oates said. “What you change is just the decisions guys make or where you put the puck. Some of your reads. When a guy makes a bad read or makes a mistake you try to coach him through it for the next time. But the structure doesn’t change.”