Between periods of the New Jersey Devils' 3-2 victory yesterday, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee confirmed his intentions to complete at least one trade -- and possibly more -- over the next two days.
"Yes," McPhee said, nodding, "there will be something."
What transpired on the Verizon Center ice was equally noteworthy: Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal in six games and dented goaltender Scott Clemmensen's mask in the process, Alexander Semin was benched for almost all of the final 10 minutes, and the Devils won for the first time this season with someone not named Martin Brodeur in net.
Despite all of that, most of the talk in the Capitals' locker room afterward focused on the players who might have played their final game in Washington. With the NHL's trade deadline set for 3 p.m. tomorrow and the Capitals out of playoff contention, it's possible, if not likely, that center Dainius Zubrus, right wing Richard Zednik and defenseman Jamie Heward, each of whom become unrestricted free agents July 1, could be dealt.
"It crosses your mind," Zubrus said. "You have to be realistic. I don't know if I did play my last game, but it's a good possibility that I did. If I go somewhere, I go somewhere."
McPhee has expressed interest in signing Zubrus and Zednik to extensions, but time is running out, he acknowledged. The contract talks with Zubrus's agent, in fact, have slowed to a standstill. The 28-year-old center, who has 20 goals and 32 assists, figures to be particularly valuable to clubs with Stanley Cup aspirations and could yield an attractive return. Zednik and Heward, meanwhile, would likely fetch mid-round draft picks.
"We'd like to sign them," McPhee said, referring to Zubrus and Zednik. "But there isn't much time left."
Although McPhee declined to say whether he's weighing specific offers, he did acknowledge that his conversations with other general managers are becoming more frequent and taking on a more down-to-business tone. Yesterday, the Capitals' pro scouting staff -- Brian MacLellan, Larry Carriere and Dave Draper -- were due to arrive in Washington. They'll spend the majority of the next 48 hours in a conference room in the club's downtown offices, weighing offers and discussing various trade scenarios. Ross Mahoney, the director of amateur scouting, also will be in attendance.
"It's life," Ovechkin said of the possibility of a roster makeover in the coming days. "They are good teammates. But it's the NHL, so you never know when you wake up where you are going to be."
One thing Ovechkin no longer has to worry about, however, is his goal-scoring slump. He fired a wrist shot off Clemmensen's mask and into the net at 9 minutes 13 seconds of the third period to tie the score at 2. Clemmensen finished with 23 saves in his first action since Dec. 14 and only his third start this season.
"I had the puck and I had speed, it was a good shot, and it went in," Ovechkin said. "Finally."
But 35 seconds after Ovechkin's goal, Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier was called for tripping Devils center Mike Rupp, and 16 seconds after that, Jamie Langenbrunner scored on the ensuing power play. Pothier later disputed the call, saying that he got "full puck" as he dived back to stop Rupp.
Langenbrunner's shot, on a rebound, hit Brent Johnson (26 saves) in the shoulder and went up and over the Capitals goaltender and into the net.
"It was deflating," Johnson said of the decisive score. "It was a game that was there for us."
Pothier added, "I felt like I got full puck, but obviously [referee Francois St-Laurent] didn't."
Semin, meantime, took only one full shift over the second half of the third period. Although Coach Glen Hanlon did not provide a specific reason for benching his second-leading scorer, he did hint that he was unhappy with his play.
"I had a good feel for the rest of the guys," Hanlon said. "I felt they were going to get it done. I just didn't feel that [Semin] was going to score a goal tonight."
Brooks Laich scored the Capitals' other goal. Zach Parise and Travis Zajac also tallied for the Devils.