By Tracee Hamilton
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 9:33 PM
There is no more room for excuses, promises or "wait till next year" platitudes now. The Washington Capitals are set, for better or worse, entering the Stanley Cup playoffs.
General Manager George McPhee filled the two spots he wanted to fill at Monday's NHL trade deadline, acquiring center Jason Arnott and defenseman Dennis Wideman. Now McPhee can start planning for the draft, because his work on this team is essentially done. Now it's all on Bruce Boudreau to see if he can get the new ingredients to jell with the current roster in the remaining 19 games, including Tuesday night's meeting with the New York Islanders at Verizon Center.
And now . . . everyone waits. Until the first round of the playoffs commences in mid-April, we're not going to know if this entire season - this giant experiment of turning an offensive juggernaut into a defensive-minded, playoff-style hockey team in just 12 months - was a success.
Green's injury is more worrisome. No one who saw him whacked in the head by a puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Super Bowl Sunday thought he would be back as soon as he was. He was out with symptoms consistent with a concussion, and last Friday, in just his second start since that incident, he was hit again, this time by Derek Stepan of the Rangers, and now McPhee is saying he'll be out "at least a couple of weeks."
Green is tough, and he'll want to get back as soon as possible, but he wasn't 100 percent healthy in last year's first-round playoff series against Montreal, and it showed. The Caps desperately need him healthy this time around, when the stakes are even higher.
There are two ways this postseason can go for Washington. The first - the one for which fans are nervously hoping - is that the switch to a more defensive style of play, while sometimes painful in the regular season, will help the Capitals shake the can't-win-in-the-playoffs monkey off their backs.
The second way it can go: badly.
'Badly' means the Caps once again falter. 'Badly' probably means saying goodbye to Boudreau. Hockey coaches are not known for their longevity, and it's possible Boudreau is not the guy to get them all the way to the end of the line.
"Badly" could mean saying goodbye to McPhee, although that is considerably less likely. Last year at the trade deadline, McPhee addressed team needs - albeit amid less urgency, because the Capitals were leading the league in points at the time - and acquired Eric Belanger, Joe Corvo, Milan Jurcina and Scott Walker. To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, he's still here, they're all gone. If Arnott and Wideman prove adequate, McPhee is probably safe.
Owner Ted Leonsis gave both McPhee and Boudreau money and room to work, but even he has a limited supply of patience (especially now that it has to be divvied up with the Wizards). He might make some allowances for injuries, but the Penguins have managed to play well without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Every team is banged up, especially this late in the season.
So the bottom line: These are your Washington Capitals. In six weeks, the postseason begins. And then we'll know.