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Oates' approach with Capitals: Teach, not yell

by Adam Vingan /

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Adam Oates did not want to be yelled at.

Throughout his Hall-of-Fame playing career, the Washington Capitals coach preferred to be taught, not berated after poor performances, a philosophy that has carried over to his coaching career.

"If I showed up for work and we lose, I don't want to be yelled at. I want to be coached," Oates said Sunday. "Tell me the truth. If you think I played a bad game, that's fine, but tell me the truth. Don't make something up because then I lose faith in you.

"I don't want to be that guy. I do not want to tell them a lie. I'll tell them when I think they make mistakes, but I'm not going to lie to them, no way, because I think guys see through that too. Maybe they come in expecting to be yelled at because we lost; it's just not my style."

Considering Washington's uninspiring 1-4-0 start, Oates would not have been criticized -- perhaps he would have been lauded -- for chastising his players, but that simply is not who he is.

Oates' understated approach and emphasis on positive reinforcement has proven results; last season the Capitals were the NHL's worst team through 12 games, only to flourish down the stretch en route to their seventh Southeast Division title as they grew comfortable with his system while also building a foundation of trust.

They won just one of their first five games last season (1-3-1), and recovered. The Capitals once again are relying on their coach to guide them through their early-season travails.

"If it was just the players coaching this team, we probably would have been yelling and screaming at each other and trying to work it out that way," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "But because the way he is, he's a rock. He always wants to bring the positive out and that's I think why he gets such good results out of some of these guys. He never gets down on anybody, and like we said with the mental game, that's really, really important for an athlete.

"He definitely changes the mood and he can control it really well. It's good to look at some positives and kind of reassure us that there are good things even though we're not getting the results."

Patience also is a virtue Oates abides by. After canceling practice Sunday to allow his players to refresh following a 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, Oates said significantly altering his forward lines, despite their offensive struggles, would send the wrong message.

So when the Capitals took the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for the morning skate Monday to prepare for the Edmonton Oilers less than 48 hours after their most lopsided loss of the season, the forward lines and defensive pairings remained intact.

It was yet another illustration of Oates' faith in his team, one he knows is fully capable of turning things around.

"It means he still believes in the lines and the players," center Mikhail Grabovski said. "We just need a little bit of luck and we'll be all right. I think it's coming."

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