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January 13, 2013

Capitals must adjust quickly to new coach

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Washington Capitals are back on the ice and adjusting to new coach Adam Oates virtually on the fly.

Washington opens the season on Saturday at Tampa Bay, giving Oates just six practices and a scrimmage to install his system, which is a cross between Bruce Boudreau's up-tempo scheme and successor Dale Hunter's defensive-oriented game plan.

Captain Alex Ovechkin, a two-time Hart Trophy winner, worked at right wing on Sunday instead of his usual left wing.

"I'm excited," Ovechkin said of Oates' system. "Everybody involved so you can create."

Winger Matt Hendricks said the Caps' first day back together since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals was like going back to school, but with a new teacher.

"We've scouted and played a lot of teams that play a somewhat similar system — New Jersey, Boston, L.A., Nashville," Hendricks said. "We're going be a skating team within a very defensive structure. It's an exciting brand of hockey. We're going to force teams to turn the puck over."

Defenseman Mike Green said Oates' system is "exactly what this hockey club needs, a balance of the two structures we've had before."

Still Troy Brouwer admitted that the Caps are "at a little bit of disadvantage" with a new coach, but the winger said he's not worried despite the compact 48-game schedule that was reduced from 82 because of the 113-day lockout.

"We'll probably have some mistakes, but we've got smart guys in here," Brouwer said. "I liked what we did today. It was a good mix of high intensity, getting guys back in shape and learning the new system."

The 50-year-old Hall of Famer doing the teaching was as happy after the on-ice session as his players were to be back doing what they love.

"It was a lot of fun," said Oates, an assistant with Eastern Conference champion New Jersey in 2011-12. "The guys were really good about the (lengthy pre-practice video session). They did a great job. It was a long day. There was a lot of information and they handled it well. Right now, it's more about learning a new system and playing good defense. I consider it just playing smart hockey."

NOTES: The Caps signed RW Eric Fehr, who was with the team from 2005-11 before spending last season with Winnipeg, to a one-year, $600,000 contract. . The Caps recalled G Braden Holtby and D Cameron Schilling from Hershey of the American Hockey League and forward Tom Wilson from Plymouth of the Ontario Hockey League. . F Brooks Laich didn't practice because of an apparent groin injury that he suffered while playing in Switzerland. Laich said he has "a road map" to get back on the ice soon. General manager George McPhee said he didn't think that Laich's injury was "anything major." . Defenseman Tom Poti, sidelined for two years with injuries to his groin and pelvis, was sent to Hershey on a conditioning assignment after passing his physical. . Oates said Ovechkin suggested the move to right wing, which is an experiment for now.


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