Throughout his first season as an NHL coach, Adam Oates has continuously emphasized method over result. Regardless of how things played out on the scoreboard, focus on playing correctly has been his unwavering message to the Washington Capitals through 42 games.
So after the Capitals coughed up a four-goal lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning but still went on to win, 6-5 in overtime, Saturday night, it wasn’t surprising to hear the players emphasize the need to learn from the ugly finish.
“You’ve got to keep your foot on the gas,” Jason Chimera said. “Anytime you have that kind of lead, no matter what, I think you tend to put your foot off the gas a bit for some reason. You can’t do that in this league.”
The Capitals were cruising early in the second period, up 5-1 with Tampa Bay in shambles. While it is unsurprising to see a team let up with that large of a lead, Washington stopped playing its game. Rather than focus on making the simple, correct play, players said they tried to be unnecessarily fancy.
“Just play simple. That’s the most important thing right now. We get the lead 5-1 we don’t have to score more goals. Just play safe and don’t give them anything,” Alex Ovechkin said. “We give them too much confidence out there. They have confidence right away when they score that third goal. Of course it was pretty good play by them, but in our zone we have to stay confident all the time.”
The collapse doesn’t occur in a vacuum, though, as the Lightning worked to fight back in the contest.
Tampa Bay’s desperation and willingness to play frantically without any predictable game plan other than to battle back in the game however possible, made it tougher for the Capitals to make the correct decision at times. While there’s no simple explanation for why Washington let a four-goal lead dissolve, Oates believes the Lightning’s play certainly had a role in throwing the home team off its game.
“When a team does get behind that much, they play so reckless, and you’re not trained to handle a reckless team. The D jump in at crazy situations, and you’re not really trained to do that,” Oates said. “If the game’s a more normal game at the start, they wouldn’t have played so crazy. But I’m not trying to use that as an excuse, it’s just hard sometimes.
“You want and try and make the right decision,” Oates continued, “But if all of a sudden they’re just flying their D in at a position that he never would do that normally if the score was different, then it’s hard for your winger, ‘Where do I go?’ You don’t want overcommit and before you know it, it gets a little choppy.”
While the Capitals came away with the important two points, doing so after giving up a commanding lead is far from a desirable way to win.
Considering it’s the second time in eight days that they’ve allowed an opponent to score three third-period goals — the first was April 6 at Florida, though the Panthers didn’t complete the comeback – the players are wary of letting it become a habit.
“It happened to us in Florida where we got up so many goals and we kind of sit back and try to play with a lead and the other team just keeps coming. And you can’t play like that,” Mike Green said. “You have to keep playing the way we do and play for a full 60 and we’ll be successful. We’ll win better games than that, that’s for sure.”
>> Aaron Volpatti left the game after blocking a shot by Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas with 6:01 gone in the third period. The Capitals’ winger struggled to put weight on his right foot as he went off the ice but was in the dressing room post game and said he was okay.
“It’s all right. It’s fine,” Volpatti said. “A little pressure cut.”