- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2012

This is it, your Washington Capitals. No buying, no acquiring a second-line center, no trading a couple of unhappy veterans, no unloading expiring contracts to recoup value.

General manager George McPhee never pulled the trigger before Monday afternoon’s trade deadline, making calls but coming up empty. Flaws and all, his ninth-place Caps weren’t worth gambling on to see if this would be the year to make a run.

“There are more mistakes made at the trading deadline than anytime in our business because everybody thinks this is the move that puts them over the top,” McPhee said. “And then in the summertime, you have a lot of managers sitting there [saying], ‘Geez, I wish I still had that young player or had that first-round pick.’ And so we weren’t going to make a mistake. We weren’t going to chase a bad deal.”

McPhee said he “probably talked to every club it seems 10 to 15 times in the last three or four days” but couldn’t get a deal done. He’s not giving up on the season but wasn’t willing to sacrifice even a small piece of the future for now.

Not with star center Nicklas Backstrom’s status cloudy because of a concussion suffered Jan. 3. He hasn’t skated since five minutes Jan. 23 and yesterday was put on long-term injured reserve retroactive to Jan. 4. He’s missed the past 24 games, and there is no time table for his return.

While the season began with talk of the Stanley Cup, McPhee reset the expectations.

“Well, I certainly think we’re capable of making the playoffs with this team right now,” he said. “If Nicky Backstrom came back, it certainly would improve our chances of being able to win a Cup. We can make the playoffs with this team. And if he comes back, we can beat anybody in this conference.”

It’s a big if, especially considering that McPhee made it clear he doesn’t know if or when Backstrom will return.

Instead, he talked up the Caps’ recent play, which included victories over the downtrodden Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I like us to continue to play the way we’ve played the last little bit here and see if we can make a difference,” McPhee said.

The players hoped that winning a couple in a row would make a difference in terms of buying at the trade deadline. They’re on the edge of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.

“You think you’d be adding guys to get better,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “You would think that that’s what the move would be. We’re right on the cusp right now.”

There has been a strange sense of positivity within the Caps’ locker room in the past week, a confidence that this is the right combination of players to get the job done. The task now is just to get into the playoffs.

Veteran right wing Mike Knuble, considered probably the second most likely player to be dealt behind disgruntled defenseman Roman Hamrlik, said he didn’t pick up the vibe that the Capitals were just waiting for something to change in the way of a trade.

“I don’t feel like our group is like ‘We have to do something here,’ ” Knuble said. “Of course you want to add something to your team, but it kind of depends on what George sees the attitude of the team right now.”

Business as usual has been the attitude for a while, as players shrugged off worrying about the trade deadline. Now the Caps don’t have any other choice: They play the New York Islanders on Tuesday night to open a five-game homestand.

Whether Washington can make up the ground and clinch a playoff berth is a matter of finding consistency.

“I think it depends how we play,” goaltender Tomas Vokoun said. “I think in the past we have been sometimes a two-faced team. Sometimes we look awesome, and sometimes we don’t look so good. I think there’s still a lot of good players in this locker room. They’ve got to play up to their capabilities.”