Understated approach pays off for Capitals coach Adam Oates

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Adam Oates could have yelled and screamed and berated his team.

The Capitals were 2-8-1 in early February and struggling to adapt to new systems from a first-year head coach. Oates was worried his players would become frustrated and tune out his message and that his decisions would become fodder for media criticism.

None of that actually affected Oates' belief in himself, of course. And he never actually considered exploding at his team. That's not how he was as a player. That is not how he is as a coach. He doesn't see the point.

"It really is what I wanted and what I responded to as a player," Oates said. "I showed up for work so I didn't need to be yelled at. Whether a coach liked me or not is irrelevant. You didn't have to yell at me to get your point across."

Game 1
Rangers at Capitals
When » Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Where » Verizon Center
TV » CSN

In a way, this week's Stanley Cup playoff series with the New York Rangers is a clash of coaching styles, too. Oates emphasizes open lines of communications and actively asks his own coaching staff if players will be responsive on a given day or "are they sick of us?"

Rangers coach John Tortorella is notoriously hard on his players, a demanding tactician who insists on discipline and sacrifice. He won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 with that philosophy, and New York reached the Eastern Conference finals last season after ousting the Caps in the second round. There is no one right way to win -- even if Tortorella's style is becoming extinct in the modern NHL.

"Back in the day, yelling was the thing," Washington center Mike Ribeiro said. "You yell and guys will step up with what they're doing. Nowadays, it's changed. It's just generations. There's more communication and respect from the coaches to players."

Oates wanted no part this week of critiquing colleagues like Tortorella or Philadelphia's Peter Laviolette, another fiery customer who is unafraid to get in a players' face. It's clear he wouldn't have wanted to play for those coaches during his Hall of Fame career. But he respects their results. Still, Oates does think his way allows for frank criticism while also maintaining a players' trust.

"There's no perfect animal," Oates said. "I just really feel that if I'm not happy with a guy, I don't have to yell at him to let him know. I can talk to him. He's still a pro. You've got to be a pro."

He mentioned defenseman Mike Green skating up to him during a practice in Montreal this month and making a suggestion based off a game the night before in Ottawa. Oates wouldn't say what they discussed but admitted Green's idea made sense. He wants that feedback from his players -- even if the final say remains with the coaching staff.

"I could easily just point to a guy and go, 'Be there.' But I'd rather show it to him," Oates said. "Maybe he learns and it makes sense to him why he should be there. And that way the learning curve grows, and you don't have to keep going over the same thing. I also don't want to wear them out. I don't want them to get sick of me too soon."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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