WASHINGTON — Adam Oates was still in his offensive heyday, a dazzling playmaking center, when he joined the Bruins via trade from St. Louis in February 1992. Now he has fewer than 60 days logged as the head man behind the Capitals bench, and his coaching touch, not yet the equal of his offensive handiwork, has improved since his club’s rocky start in January.
“We didn’t play good. We didn’t,’’ said Oates, 50, taking a couple of minutes to chat prior to his club pinning a 4-3 overtime loss on on the Bruins here Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. “There were some ugly moments and the guys were great about it, they really were.
“They were very professional, which is what I asked. Since then, we started to play better.’’
The Capitals, 9-11-1 after the win, won but one of their first seven games (1-5-1) in January. It could be that soft start that prevents them from making the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
The Capitals are now 4-1-0 in their last five games, twice winning by 3-0 shutouts. Overall, they’ve tightened up their game and grown more accustomed to a new system under a new coach.
“It was a little bit of everything,’’ Oates said about the start. “Tough in the sense of the lockout. It’s only happened once before [1994-95], that’s so rare . . . and because of that some of the guys had different conditioning levels. Some guys were playing overseas, some guys weren’t. New coaching staff. New coaching system. No exhibition games.
“It’s like, ‘Hi, guys!’ and then we’re playing a game in three days. And you know what, they were great about it. They were great.
“And even though we had some losses early, they weren’t complaining. They fought through it. But now they are getting used to [the system] and we’re playing better.’’
Some goalies keep very detailed notes about opponents. Tuukka Rask isn’t one of them. The Bruins’ No. 1 goalie, back in the cage for his 16th start this season Tuesday night, relies more on instinct than note-keeping.
Although, with the sharp-eyed, laser-shooting Alex Ovechkin in the Capitals lineup, the Finnish goalie had a few mental notes at hand.
“Yeah, I think especially on the power play,’’ said Rask, asked if he needs to pay particular attention to Ovechkin. “He likes to carry the puck, have it on his stick, and he’ll shoot from anywhere. So you’ve always got to be aware of him.’’
Rask also is not an ardent viewer of videotape. Most of the time, he said, he knows how a shot has eluded him.
“There’s always goals that you feel you should have done something differently,’’ he said. “But most of the shots that go in now have probably hit a stick or taken a crazy bounce.’’
Rask’s 11 wins are tied for tops in the NHL with Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, Philadelphia’s Ilya Bryzgalov, and Montreal’s Carey Price. Prior to the loss, he ranked fifth in goals-against average (1.97) and his .928 save percentage also was No. 5.
Braden Holtby made his 10th straight start in the Washington net.
Bourque back in
Chris Bourque, who started his pro career as a member of the Capitals organization, was back in the Boston lineup after sitting out Sunday’s loss to the Canadiens.
“He didn’t play the last game,’’ coach Claude Julien noted after the morning workout, “but that’s more about getting different guys into the lineup.’’
Specifically, the move Sunday allowed Jay Pandolfo into the mix as a fourth-line winger and it moved Daniel Paille up to left wing on the third line, where Bourque has been playing with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. Julien has noted recently that he needs to see more offensive production from his third and fourth lines, and the Paille-Kelly-Peverley trio looked good in their one game together against the Habs.
Pandolfo, fellow forward Lane MacDermid, and defenseman Aaron Johnson were Boston’s scratches Tuesday night.
Thief in the night
Entering the game, Patrice “The Thief’’ Bergeron had the top faceoff-winning percentage (62.4) among players who had won more than 22 drops this season. He had an off night in D.C., losing 10 of 21. Fellow Quebecer Antoine Vermette (Coyotes) was next in line at 61.3 percent . . . Ovechkin is a paltry 8-9—17 and minus-4 through 21 games. He needs to be a force for the Capitals to chisel their way into the playoff running. He entered the game tied for 30th in the league goal-scoring race. Brad Marchand, who scored his 12th on a first-period penalty shot, was tied for fifth. At least Ovechkin is shooting. His 85 shots on net prior to Tuesday night ranked him T-3 in the league, behind only John Tavares (Islanders) and Zach Parise (Wild), each with 86 . . . Ex-Canadiens pivot Mike Ribeiro is leading the offense for the Capitals, connecting for 8-17—25. “Not too many guys are as skilled as he is,’’ noted Julien, Ribeiro’s coach in Montreal for a time years ago. “He can make a highlight-film play almost every night, he’s got such skill with the puck.’’
Marchand posted a career-high three assists in the 4-3 loss Sunday to the Habs. No one else in Black-and-Gold has picked up three assists in one game this season, although Bergeron four times has notched two. Three of Bergeron’s two-assist nights came across his seven games leading up to Tuesday night . . . David Krejci’s offense has been quiet of late. The Czech center totaled only one assist in the three games leading up to the game here. He did collect two helpers vs. the Capitals. Not surprisingly, linemates Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton also had but 1 point apiece in their last three games. Both collected assists Tuesday night . . . The Panthers announced Tuesday that Horton’s old pal and center, Stephen Weiss, would require wrist surgery next week and is finished for the season. Very tough break for Florida. Weiss is on target to become an unrestricted free agent July 5. If they weren’t going to make the playoffs, the Panthers could have dished him prior to the April 3 trade deadline. Now, no trade and they’ll likely lose him as a UFA . . . The Capitals waived veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik, whose spotty play kept him out of all but four games this season. The former No. 1 draft pick (Tampa/1992) has played for six NHL franchises. He signed a two-year deal last season and put up meager numbers last season (2-11—13 in 60 games). He has but one assist this season. Not much left in the tank at age 38, but he probably gets picked up by a contender for insurance/depth. If Hamrlik clears waivers, said Oates, he’ll remain with the club. Any team interested in adding him to the roster might wait until closer to the April 3 trade deadline, when nearly another month of salary has been whittled off his contract.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.