The Adam Oates era with the Washington Capitals is off to a stumbling start.
The Capitals fell to 0-2-0 under their new coach when the Winnipeg Jets came into the Verizon Center on Tuesday night and defeated Washington 4-2 for their first victory of the new season.
Suffice it to say that the Capitals' are going through some growing pains in making the transition from Dale Hunter's defense-first strategy to Oates' more offense-oriented system.
"It is a good system," the Hall of Famer said. "It's going to be hard and we have to fight through that. I thought we could have had better execution. We didn’t give ourselves the opportunity to play the team game. We turned it over on the blue line too many times, little subtle things that could have gone better to help ourselves."
The loss spoiled the Capitals' first home game of the season after they lost their season-opener 6-3 at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night. It also ended their 10-game winning streak in home openers; they hadn't lost their first home game of the season since a 4-1 win by the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 6, 2000.
"The guys didn't look like they had much in the tank," said Oates, whose team had been off since Saturday. "I'm sure that’s a product of this season and what happened and our conditioning levels, which we talk about every day."
Winnipeg, playing its third game in four days, improved to 1-1-1 by rebounding after a 2-1 shootout loss at the Boston Bruins on Monday afternoon.
"We came into Boston and Washington, both tough buildings to play in and tough teams to play against, and we played the way we knew we could play," said Jets forward Blake Wheeler, who scored his team's third goal.
Getting three of four points in a two-day span in two of the NHL's toughest buildings for visiting teams left Jets coach Claude Noel a lot happier than he was when his team hit the road after losing 4-1 to the Ottawa Senators at home in their season-opener Saturday.
"Three out of four points on the road is real good for us," he said. "I thought we played well, I thought [goalie Ondrej Pavelec] was outstanding. He was in a real good groove and our power play [was good as well], and I thought we played a good team game again. So you’ve got to like what you see from our group, especially after the first game."
The Capitals got off to a strong start and took the lead when Matt Hendricks crashed the net and deflected Nicklas Backstrom's pass behind Pavelec at 10:02 of the first period. But Washington's penalty-killers, who allowed three goals at Tampa Bay, coughed up two more before the end of the period. Evander Kane tied the game at 12:34, and Jets captain Andrew Ladd put his team ahead to stay at 16:26.
After outshooting the Capitals 13-8 in the opening period, the Jets were even more dominant in the second, outshooting Washington 20-9 and scoring twice in the last six minutes to take a 4-1 lead into the dressing room after 40 minutes. Wheeler converted a feed from Kane at 14:32, and Jim Slater got a backbreaker when he beat Braden Holtby through the pads with a stoppable shot with 45.4 seconds left in the period.
"I thought it was a really solid effort from start to finish," Ladd said. "We had four lines going and we were smart with the pucks, and that lead to a lot of good things
"I think winning in general, that’s the way we want to play. Our defense played great, they blocked a lot of shots, we were strong defensively, and when we had the puck offensively, we did good things with it and put it in good spots."
The Capitals dominated the third period but managed only a power-play goal by Troy Brouwer with 1:16 remaining.
Hendricks said he was surprised at the Capitals' showing in the first game in front of their home fans.
"It was a little surprising," he said. "We have been talking since we got back in town about how much we missed Verizon Center and our fans, playing in front of them and the support they give us. I thought guys worked hard, but we need a little bit more energy."
Though a 48-game season heightens the importance of every game, Capitals forward Joel Ward said there's no need to panic despite the 0-2-0 record they'll take into Thursday's game at Montreal.
"It's two games out of 48. It’s a long way to go. Anything can happen, obviously," he said. "We are just focused on the next day and the next game."