For the first time since 2009, the Washington Capitals let the trade deadline go by without making a single alteration. The team that will make the final push in the 2011-12 regular season — the team that is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in five years — is largely the same one that stood at the conclusion of training camp five months ago.
The continuity doesn’t bother the players, who said they relish the opportunity to finish what they started as a group — warts and all.
“As a player, I’m happy that everybody still remains in this room. I enjoy the guys I play with, so I’m happy we still have everybody,” forward Brooks Laich said. “This is a team I was really excited about in the summer, and I still believe that this is a very good hockey team and a team that can get it done.”
On Tuesday, in their first game since General Manager George McPhee decided to stand pat at the deadline, the Capitals rallied in emotional fashion to erase a late two-goal deficit and force overtime before defeating the New York Islanders, 3-2.
It started off an important five-game homestand on a positive note and moved Washington back into playoff position with 69 points, one ahead of ninth-place Winnipeg and three behind Southeast Division-leading Florida.
The Capitals might not be in the most comfortable of situations in the standings with 19 games remaining, but they’re still in control.
“It kind of reiterates the point that no matter what, we’re not out of a game or anything right now,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “We’ve talked about it all year and haven’t necessarily done it — come from behind too many times — being at home certainly helped but it drove that point home. We’re never out of it.”
Considering that no true blockbuster deals took place in the Eastern Conference and the established balance of power remained intact, this season simply boils down to how well Washington performs down the stretch.
“We have a really good hockey team here, we have all the types of players we need, and I think we can all figure this out together,” center Marcus Johansson said. “There’s no doubt that everyone in this room believes we can reach the playoffs.”
With the exception of additions from the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears in Dmitry Orlov and Keith Aucoin, and the continued absence of center Nicklas Backstrom because of a concussion, the Capitals’ roster is the same as it was in October.
After the deadline passed Monday, McPhee said he is confident that same group will emerge from a rocky season — one that included a coaching change, the continuation of captain Alex Ovechkin’s offensive struggles and injuries to Backstrom and No. 1 defenseman Mike Green — and capture a postseason berth.
“I guess he feels this is a team that’s going to get the job done,” Green said. “That’s comforting for us, knowing that. It’s definitely different than in the past. Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe we have all the belief in this room, and we’ve been working together all year.”
In each of the past two seasons, McPhee added pieces at the deadline with mixed reviews. The acquisitions of Scott Walker, Joe Corvo and Eric Belanger in the 2009-10 season didn’t pan out and personalities didn’t mesh in the dressing room. Washington added Dennis Wideman and Jason Arnott in 2010-11.
While Wideman has proved to be a valuable part of the lineup this season as he finishes out his contract, Arnott’s blunt leadership style rubbed some the wrong way, and he signed with St. Louis in the offseason.
Chemistry among a group of players is a finicky thing, but for now the Capitals don’t mind that they will rise or fall this season as this group.
“Sometimes when you throw a curveball in it, it can derail or the train can go off the tracks,” Green said. “We’ve just got to reel it in here this last month, get ready to put ourselves in a playoff spot and then go for a long haul from there.”