- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

The Adam Oates era with the Washington Capitals started with a 2-0 loss to a woeful New York Islanders team March 2, 1997. Oates held out, arguing he deserved a better contract than the one he had in Boston. Had the Caps gotten so much as a tie that night instead of a loss, they would have made the playoffs that spring.
The Caps' era without Adam Oates as their top center started Tuesday night in Denver with a 3-0 victory over Colorado, a revitalizing one that boosted sagging morale. It clearly illustrated what the team could do when it wanted to and kept Washington in the race for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Washington beat one of the top teams in the tougher Western Conference by applying almost continuous pressure, by making Patrick Roy, the all-time league leader in goaltending victories (513 and counting), feel like he was the target in a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.
Tonight all Washington has to do is face the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the four teams fighting for the Eastern Conference title. Boston, Philadelphia, the Leafs and Ottawa were within three points going into last night's games.
"Everybody played well in Denver," Caps coach Ron Wilson said. "We could argue that we were a little bit faster, and having [Dainius] Zubrus in the middle makes us a little faster. But you give up something in the area of playmaking. It was only one game; we want to continue to improve and see if Zubrus can fill the role of being a center iceman."
For one night at least, Zubrus was the new Oates, centering Jaromir Jagr with Glen Metropolit on the left side. It is not etched in stone that he is going to stay there; it is a position he has to earn.
Washington made a killing with the Oates deal on deadline day, getting what virtually everybody agrees is a superb goaltending prospect in Maxime Ouellet, plus Philadelphia's first-, second- and third-round picks in June's draft. It was, as even Oates admitted, an offer too good to refuse.
But what was lost in the transaction will be hard to replace. It took four months for Oates, a gifted playmaker, and Jagr, an outstanding point producer, to establish the chemistry to know where each other would be at any given moment. Washington's long-shot playoff hopes hinge on another relationship developing much quicker.
"I think a bunch of people are going to have to share the responsibility," Wilson said of splitting up Oates' duties. The 39-year-old was not only the Caps' leading scorer (68 points) but averaged more than 22 minutes a night, more than any other Washington forward. He played even-strength, killed penalties, was on the power play, was the lone forward killing off two-man disadvantages, was one of the league leaders in winning faceoffs.
The faceoff battle is crucial in controlling the puck, especially in your own end. Normally, the Caps win 60 percent of the draws, but on Tuesday night they were beaten 60 percent of the time. Zubrus, a wing throughout his career, is not proficient at the art, and Oates' contribution in that area will be hard to make up.
"We easily could not have traded Oates, but what if he had gotten hurt in the first period the other night, where would we be then?" Wilson asked. "We're not about to give up because we lost one player. We have the answers in the room if the guys are willing to work hard enough and believe in themselves.
"But it's not going to be easy. We got great goaltending, which is the most important thing that and getting the job done in our own end. That starts with the goalie, goes forward to the defense and eventually to the forwards. Olie Kolzig was perfect against Colorado. and he's going to have to be more or less the same the rest of the way."


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