Babcock’s career also serves as a reminder to Oates that results don’t always reflect the quality of a team, coach or player.
“We went to Game 7 of the [Stanley Cup] finals [in 2002-03], he’s obviously a good coach. But the next year he missed the playoffs. Does that make him a bad coach?” Oates said. “That always sticks in my mind.”
‘He knew we could do it’
Oates’s perspective — that details and sticking to the game plan are fundamentally more important than what was on the scoreboard — is unlike anything most of the Capitals had experienced. Players, frustrated by early season woes, were caught off guard by the constant positivity.
“We could lose a game, 6-1, and he’d show us six great neutral-zone clips,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Sometimes, even after we watched, we’d still be [ticked] off, but he kept such a straight face and even keel. He doesn’t seem to change, ever.
“It’s pretty amazing he’s been able to do that, but he knew we could do it.”
A critical element of Oates’s coaching strategy, Green added, has been his willingness, as well as his assistants, to work with players one-on-one.
“He’s so detailed with the other teams and how to play them and our own game that we’re learning every day,” Green said. “The amount of information I’ve absorbed over the course of this year from [Oates and assistant coaches Calle Johansson and Tim Hunter] has been outstanding. I’ve learned more than I’ve ever learned in my whole career.”
When Alex Ovechkin moved to right wing at the beginning of the season at Oates’s request and began incorporating additional elements — such as backchecking and better use of his linemates — the goals were hard to come by. But as much as Ovechkin wanted to contribute offensively, Oates maintained the mantra that solid play would lead to more touches, more offensive opportunities, more goals and ultimately make the star winger a better player.
That message wasn’t unique to Ovechkin.
Jason Chimera, who has three goals this season and is the first to admit he hasn’t produced as much offense as he had hoped, was made to understand that his speed and corresponding forechecking and backchecking ability were essential to the success of his line.
And that his worth to the Capitals wasn’t measured exclusively on the score sheet.
“A lot of coaches look at offensive production and as soon as it drops off they’ll say you’re not doing anything, or the wrong things,” Chimera said. “But the little things matter more with him.”
The right buttons
From tasking Jack Hillen with important minutes immediately after the defenseman returned from injury, to relying on minor league journeyman Steve Oleksy to be a steady presence every game, to giving Marcus Johansson another chance at being a top-line left wing and reuniting Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on a line, Oates pushed the right buttons every time Washington needed him to.