Adam Oates Says Capitals Have To Play Desperate HockeyPosted on March 14, 2014 by Ken Maguire
For Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates, the playoffs have already started, even with 15 games remaining during the regular season.
That's how Oates said he was approaching the final stretch, including a March 14 home game against the Vancouver Canucks.
"It's a must-win," Oates said after practice March 13. "Got to play desperate hockey -- that's what it's got to be."
The Capitals (70 points) were three points back of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot as of March 13. They've lost five of their past six games.
After playing the Canucks, the Capitals will host the Toronto Maple Leafs March 16 before departing for a West Coast trip against the Anaheim Ducks (93 points), Los Angeles Kings (82 points) and San Jose Sharks (93 points).
Caps forward Troy Brouwer, who has 18 goals and 14 assists, said the team needed four points before the road trip.
"They're crucial points at home," Brouwer said. "That's for sure. We're going to play a tough road trip after this. We're playing the best team in the NHL, maybe the hottest team with the Kings, and the Sharks are always a real tough team to play -- I think maybe the toughest building and rink to play in."
The Capitals have struggled on the road recently and will be facing Pacific Division heavyweights with stellar home records: Anaheim, 24-6-4; San Jose, 25-4-4, Los Angeles, 19-11-3.
The Caps have qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs for six consecutive seasons, although they've failed to advance past the second round during that period.
"Obviously, we're very concerned," Oates said. "The trip obviously is going to be a difficult trip, but we've got to get wins."
When asked about injured forward Brooks Laich, Oates talked about his playoff mindset, saying Laich might skip practices and play in games only.
"If it was the playoffs and the guy couldn't practice between games and just play at night, we've seen a lot of those situations over time, and we're in the playoffs," Oates said.
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 44 goals, said the team needed to reverse its trend of slow starts.
"We just have to set the tone right away," said Ovechkin, who has been held without a point for four consecutive games. "It can be one big hit or can be one good play and everybody wake up and everybody plays much better."
Oates said newly acquired forward Dustin Penner won't be skating on the first line with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
"I don't think he matches well with them," Oates said. "He's not the fastest guy in the world. He's a puck-possession, battle-along-the-wall guy. I think Ovi and Backy need a quicker guy."
Penner has no points during five games for Washington. He has skated mostly with Brouwer and Marcus Johansson.
Jaroslav Halak appears to be Oates' preferred goalie, more so than Braden Holtby. Halak has started the past three games.
"He's given us a chance to win," said Oates, who earlier this season leaned on rookie goalie Philipp Grubauer while Holtby waited.
Still, Oates said he had confidence in Holtby. Caps general manager George McPhee has also lauded Holtby's talent and character.
"We love Braden Holtby," McPhee said. "He's going to be here a while, a long time."
The Caps announced March 13 that they had signed defenseman Dmitry Orlov to a two-year contract extension worth an average of $2 million per season.
Orlov, 22, has three goals and six assists this season. The Caps selected Orlov, of Russia, during the second round, 55th overall, of the 2009 NHL Draft.
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