Silly humans, we like to view things in groupings, whether or not said groupings relate to one another. So we'll talk about how our team is "such-and-such in November," even if November is just an arbitrary cut-off that's more to do with Pope Gregory than the fortunes of 21st-century hockey teams.
But a seven-game run away from home: that's a grouping that might just matter.
New York Islanders (6-6-5, 5th/Atl) at Washington Capitals (10-3-4, 1st/East)
7 p.m. | [some really annoying telco] Center | MSG+2 (twice the plus!); radio
"They don't, they don't speak for us": Japers' Rink | On Frozen Blog
The Islanders begin that grouping against the Capitals without Radek Martinek, the underrated defenseman who actually did a pretty good job defending Alex Ovechkin the last time these teams met. Then again, for this third Isles-Caps meeting of the season, the Caps are without Ovechkin. So back to square one. Of course, sans Ovi the Capitals just swept two games from Florida -- who has a similar coach, but different 2008-09 results, than our own Scott Gordon.
But in the capital, the drama over Ovechkin's injury prognosis is, well, slightly more intense than the "what else is new?" Island reaction to Martinek's. Hell, even the drama over where an unwanted Caps' soldier is headed is consuming more bytes.
While the Islanders without (future captain?) Okposo is uncharted waters, the Caps rather impressively pulled off victories without both Ovechkin and Mike Green. Yikes. I look forward to Trent Hunter's return, but somehow I don't find it to be of equal impact.
Oh, and about those margin-thinning, depth-depleting challenges to the Islanders lineup: Not only is K.O. out with Ye Olde Pig Flu, but now Doug Weight's upper body injury has changed from "week to 10 days" to "4 to 6 weeks." That's not only more realistic and more predictable; it's also a strong hint that it's a more significant shoulder injury, perhaps closer in nature to the one that kept him from Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals with Carolina. (Okay, not that serious.)
We've come, I think, to expect frequent injury from Weight's body at this age. But this one, coming so soon after the captain's own recovery from the H1N1, is a blow. I was among those hoping for a .500 performance on this road trip. With at least half of it missing Okposo and all of it missing Weight, my expectations are lowered. Add that to our tin six-defensemen depth, and hopefully Mr. Snow is watching the wires for potential reinforcements.
Regardless, another challenge means another lens with which to look at this young team.
* * *
The Cycle of a Rebuild: 1. Suck and get picks. 2. Use picks on future stars. 3. See future stars arrive and evolve. 4. Get good enough to discover that some stars maybe aren't as great as once thought.
Is that where the Caps are at with Alex Semin? Been interesting to see Caps fans debate whether he should be part of the core. Not just penalties and off nights, but the ominous comment from his agent on whether he'd adjust contract demands to fit into a championship structure in D.C. His agent: Mark Gandler. ... Gandler .... Gandler ... now where have I heard that name before? Ah yes, that's the tool. Good luck, Caps fans and Semin-lovers.
* * *
He Who Shall Not Be Named Until Healthy: I've sort of pledged not to do this, but what the hell, these quotes were interesting in a goalie-rehab sort of way. Scott Gordon on Rick DiPietro's first consecutive days of practice with the team:
He did multiple butterflies, some rapid recoveries, a lot of edge work. It was all good.
Nobody's holding their breath. But at the same time, it's nice to see the team continue to take the conservative approach with The Franchise. Strang adds that DP will do Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday work next week (so, two days of back-to-back real practice). Whatever works.
* * *
Tonight should be an interesting one, particularly if Green is still out. Lineups without their best players, going at it, trying to make do: Somehow, there's something cool and pure about that. And what would be strange and unholy? If the Isles lost in OT to move their record to 6-6-6.