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Thom Loverro: Capitals stuck in the past

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The Washington Capitals are one of the hottest teams in the NHL, making a late season run under a rookie coach to try to squeeze into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It's 2008 all over again. Shouldn't the Caps have progressed over the past six years?

Look, the Caps have played great hockey of late -- entertaining hockey -- and it's good that the fun is back on Fun Street again. Alex Ovechkin has gone from an NHL pin cushion to a candidate for the Hart Trophy -- the MVP trophy he won among other hardware following the 2007-2008 season.

But there were promises of greatness and glory and Stanley Cups made following that season, which finished with a Game 7 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. What you've had, though, are a series of first- and second-round exits and a team now struggling again to reach the playoffs.

Up next
Capitals at Canadiens
When » Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where » Bell Centre, Montreal
TV » CSN+

You can choose to enjoy the moment if you like -- it's better than what Caps fans witnessed early in the season -- but it seems there should be bigger expectations for this organization.

Taking the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference would be great after this team's poor start. Winning the Southeast Division -- boy, this franchise is going to miss the Southeast when realignment starts next season -- would be better and perhaps more likely.

But there will be a hole in the ice at Verizon Center if this team doesn't take a step forward and reach the Eastern Conference finals.

A sign that this team may be prepared to move forward would be a win Tuesday night on the road against a good Montreal Canadiens squad.

Of course, if they collapse in these final games and don't even make the playoffs, that hole will be crater-like in size.

There will be reasons given, and in the context of the season, those reasons for failing to reach the playoffs will be fair -- a rookie coach in Adam Oates taking over in a season shortened by a lockout.

But those reasons will be mean little over a larger examination of a franchise that has failed to meet expectations for six years running and, in Ovechkin's eighth season, is still counting on a better future. It's a future, by the way, that may have taken a hit with the trade of their highly regarded 2012 first-round draft pick, Filip Forsberg, to the Nashville Predators for veteran Martin Erat and minor league prospect Michael Latta.

"They're never easy decisions. It takes some guts to do deals sometimes," general manager George McPhee told reporters after the trade. "But we have a real good group of pro scouts and amateur scouts, and you sift through it, and you ruminate over it at night, and then you come back in and you talk about it some more."

McPhee told reporters he asked his staff to weigh in on the trade in a paper ballot of sorts.

Maybe someone wrote "2008" on the ballot.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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