WASHINGTON — The Capitals are in unfamiliar territory.
For the greater part of the last 20 years, they’ve navigated trade deadlines by adding players to bolster their Stanley Cup chances. On Thursday, the Capitals orchestrated a different kind of move, shipping longtime defenseman Dmitry Orlov and hard-hitting winger Garnet Hathaway to the Boston Bruins for veteran center Craig Smith and a package of draft picks.
The players didn’t have much time to dwell on that fact, however, taking the ice for warmups ahead of their game against the Anaheim Ducks just 15 minutes after the deal was announced. Facing the last-place Ducks didn’t provide the pick-me-up they were looking for; Washington lost 4-2 to extend its losing streak to six games.
“It’s part of the business,” head coach Peter Laviolette said after the game. “Doesn’t mean it’s easy. I think it happens with all teams around the league and it’s part of the business of the game. I think the guys know that and that’s a sidebar. We needed to play a hockey game. We needed to win a game and we didn’t get it done.”
With the Capitals enduring their longest regulation losing skid since October 2003, GM Brian MacLellan decided to pull off a move that allowed the team to “acquire draft capital, infuse youth and restock our system” as he wrote in his statement. While that decision may help the team be more competitive in 2023-24 and beyond, the players in the locker room now aren’t ready to call it a season.
“We still have a chance to make the playoffs,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “I think we play a good game tonight we just didn't get another one. You know, you never know what's gonna happen, we just will continue to play. Yeah, it sucks it just happened but nothing we can do. We players, we have to play the game and it's not our job to make a decision.”
The playoffs are certainly not out of the question for the Capitals — they remain just two points back of a Wild Card spot even after their loss Thursday — but other teams have moved past them in the standings with each defeat. As of the time of publication, six teams were within five points of one another for the two Wild Cards in the Eastern Conference.
Several of those teams have games in hand over the Capitals, putting the pressure on them to turn their season around quickly. They will go into the weekend with 22 games left on the schedule and one week remaining before the March 3 deadline. If there was ever a time for them to gain some momentum, it’s this weekend’s upcoming back-to-back against the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres.
“You never like to see it,” goaltender Charlie Lindgren said of Orlov and Hathaway being traded. “Show up here and found out that Orlov and Hathaway aren't gonna play and so it's sad because they're a couple guys that we've kind of battled with all year long and a couple guys that have been here for a long time. But I think the message in the locker room after it was we believe we still got a dressing room that can make something happen, that can push, so it's sad to see, hope the best for those guys.”