A Tale of Two Seasons: Looking Back at the Memorable Moments of the Adam Oates Coaching Era

Adam Oates Washington Capitals
Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

On June 26, 2012 Adam Oates was named the 16th head coach in Washington Capitals history. His appointment came after interim head coach Dale Hunter, who took over after Bruce Boudreau was fired, elected not to renew his contract.

The Oates era was a wild ride for Caps fans with plenty of ups and downs: everything from a lockout-shortened season, to a hot streak to get in the playoffs, to a crushing Game 7 loss to the Rangers in DC, and missing the playoffs the following season for the first time in seven years.

Below you’ll find several of the highlights from the Adam Oates era:

#1. The Lockout:

Adam Oates’ first season behind the bench was more like a half of a season. On September 15, 2012 at 11:59 p.m., a labor dispute happened between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA). After months of discussions, there would finally be a tentative deal on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) four months later on January 6, 2013. The season would be saved – however, given that it was January, there would be a shortened season – 48 games in the regular season  instead of the usual 82-game schedule.

#2. Oates’ First Win:

The Capitals held an open practice at Verizon Center just days before the season was set to begin and DC101’s “Elliot in the Morning” gets Troy Brouwer to show us few moves! As Troy had his dancing shoes…errrr I mean skates on for Gangnam Style! Coming into the 48-game season, the Capitals got off to a rocky start under their new bench boss. Washington opened up their season in Tampa Bay falling to the Lightning 6-3 on Saturday January 19th. The Caps home opener was Tuesday January 22nd where they lost to the Winnipeg Jets 4-2. The Capitals also fell to the Canadians on home ice 4-1 and an overtime defeat to the Devils in New Jersey 3-2, dropping Washington’s record to 0-3-1.

The Caps and Oates finally got their first win of the 2013 campaign on Sunday January 27th in an afternoon matinee at Verizon with a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Joel Ward, John Erskine and Alex Ovechkin provided the scoring for Washington. Ovechkin’s goal on the power play was the first of 32 goals during the lockout-shortened season, an impressive number considering it was 48 games and not the typical 82-game schedule.

#3. The Comeback

On Tuesday March 5, the Capitals hosted a good Boston Bruins team. The Bruins carried a 14-3-2 record and were hungry for payback as it was the teams’ first meeting since that epic 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series that went seven games and ended with Joel Ward’s game winning overtime goal. Radio voice John Walton exclaimed, “The king is dead!”

The Caps carried an 8-11-1 record looking for a momentum shift to their season. The Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the first period. The Caps got back in the game in the second frame on goals by Mike Ribero and Tomas Kundratek, making it a 3-2 game.

In the third period, Wojtek Wolski tied the game, getting the crowd back into it. You could feel the energy throughout the rest of the game. This contest needed overtime but 37 seconds in, Eric Fehr scored to send the fans home happy while stunning Boston.

Fehr dangled between two defenders, fell down but pushed the puck into the net. Joe Beninati called it a “sensational finish!” This moment could rank in the top five moments for Eric Fehr in a Capitals sweater.

#4. The Clincher

After the poor start to the season, many fans and pundits alike didn’t think they would win the Southeast Division, let alone clinch a playoff spot for that matter. The Caps started the season with just two wins in their first 13 games. On March 21, they were in 14th place, seven points behind a playoff spot and nine points back from first place in the division. But on Tuesday night, on the 23rd day of April with just two games left in the season the Capitals clinched their fifth Southeast Division title in the past six years, locking up the #3 seed in the process.

Matt Hendricks and Jason Chimera each scored goals to put Washington up 2-0. After the Winnipeg Jets tied it in the second, Nicklas Backstrom and Mathieu Perreault put the Caps out front 4-2. The Jets got a goal back in the third but Alex Ovechkin’s empty net goal with 29 seconds left gave the Caps a 5-3 win. Braden Holtby made 24 saves.

With the win, the Capitals improved their record to 14-2-1 in their past 17 games going back to March 21. The Caps were the hottest team in hockey and Oates and company were looking for a deep playoff run.

#5. Overtime Heroics Twice in the Playoffs – But Still Came Up Short

The Capitals were riding momentum into their playoff contest with the New York Rangers after the regular season ended with an unlikely trip to the playoffs. After falling to the Rangers in seven games the previous year, the Caps were hungry for revenge. The Caps start off strong with a 3-1 win in Game 1.

After trailing 1-0 in the first period, the Caps scored three straight goals in the second period. The first one came from Alex Ovechkin on the power play. Later in the period, Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera each tallied a goal less than a minute apart.

Game 2 saw an intense affair. Neither team could score so this contest required overtime. Eight minutes into the extra session, Mike Green sent a slapshot from the middle of the zone. The puck ricocheted off the top post, you could hear the ping sound, but still found it’s way into the net.

The series shifted to MSG and saw the Rangers win both Games 3 and 4 so as the teams headed back to DC, the Caps wanted to retake the series lead. Game 5 saw another overtime contest and this time it was Mike Ribero who played the hero in the Capitals 2-1 win.

Trailing 1-0 after a Brian Boyle goal, Joel Ward tied things up in the second with a power play goal. Nobody scored in the third. Ribero scored the game winner 9:24 into overtime to give the Caps the 3-2 series lead. It came off a rebound from Henrik Lundqvist’s left pad after a shot by Karl Alzner.

That was the last big highlight of Oates’ first season as Washington’s bench boss. The Caps dropped Games 6 and 7, another disappointing end to a promising season. Game 6 featured poor officiating and the Caps had zero power plays. Game 7 at Verizon Center was disturbingly similar to 2009, a blowout as the Rangers advanced to the next round with a 5-0 win.

Despite the ending, it was a positive turnaround for Oates’ first season as Washington’s head coach. Players credited his positive attitude and being willing to work closely with them as the reason for their turnaround.

The 2013-14 season opened up with the Capitals in Chicago watching the Blackhawks unveil their Stanley Cup championship banner. The Caps will open this upcoming season with that same scenario only this time in Pittsburgh. They got their first win of the season with a 5-4 shootout win in their home opener over the Flames.

#6. The Brawl

The Caps trounced the Flyers 7-0 in Philadelphia, which featured Joel Ward’s first career hat trick but no Caps-Flyers game is complete without fighting. Everybody, including the goalies, got involved.

#7. Another Epic Comeback

Coming off a three game losing streak, the Caps hosted the Coyotes on Saturday night March 8. The Caps didn’t seem to show up for much of the game. Trailing by two goals near the middle of the third period, a switch flipped. I was at this game and I remember how quiet it got after the second goal in the second period. Karl Alzner got the Caps on the board. Brooks Laich tied it 32 second later. At this point the Verizon Center came to life! Troy Brouwer scored the game-winner on the power play with 5:13 left and the fans were going bizerk. This turned out to be a disappointing season but to me being at this game was definitely the top moment.

Unfortunately the Adam Oates coaching era didn’t end on such a high note. The Caps missed the playoffs and finished ninth in the Eastern Conference with a 38-30-14 record.

All negatives turn into positives however, after Oates was dismissed as well as then-General Manager George McPhee, the Capitals hired Brian MacLellan as the new GM and Barry Trotz as head coach. Under their leadership, the Caps haven’t missed the playoffs since and are determined to bring a Stanley Cup to a championship-starved city. Time will tell, Caps fans. #IsItOctoberYet?!

By Michael Marzzacco

 

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