There is a giddiness among fans -- okay, guilty as charged -- when a player like Kyle Okposo returns after missing the first 44 games. Granted, he should be rusty and his return won't immediately change fortunes. And in his absence (and others') even "playoff bubble" dreams popped long ago. Still, just seeing #21 playing and smiling evokes fun images of what this team was supposed to look like in 2010-11 with him and Mark Streit healthy, an elusive "Blue Sky on Mars" dream-turned-mirage, like* in that silly Schwarzenegger film, "Total Recall."
In Okposo's absence, the Isles were forced to evaluate others in more important roles, and that process may have unearthed a modest discovery in waiver pickup Michael Grabner. If Grabner is for real, then you consider this season's top line and add Okposo and Frans Nielsen (skating again today) along with what Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau can be, and you start to think may there are the makings of a top nine. It's a hope we've seen before and it's a bit dreamy but not quite as thin as a blue sky on Mars.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Capitals are the league's entertaining and dominant team of the last few seasons that is going through growing pains trying to play hockey "done right" in accordance with the "playoff hockey" gods. Amid their pre-Winter Classic struggles coach Bruce Boudreau relented to "trap" for the first time in his career. Nicklas Backstrom hasn't scored in 21 games, and Alex Ovechkin has only 16 goals (ha! "only") in 47 games, a career-low pace for him.
The Caps are in 5th place in the East, seven points off the conference lead. Nice problem to have.
*Yes, that whole forced opening may have been a reach just to elicit "Total Recall" threads tonight.
- The Capitals "struggling" offense still puts up more goals than the Isles (2.79 vs. 2.43), while their defense allows far fewer (2.57 to 3.27). Back to my Mars dream then...
- The Capitals are 5-2-3 in their last 10, including an OT loss to Philly the other night. As you probably heard or otherwise guessed from the struggles of their more dynamic scorers, offense has been a challenge.
- Can't help thinking the Isles, 5-4-1 in their last 10, have missed an opportunity on this five-game home stand. Tonight is the fifth and final game and thus far they have just a win over the Sabres and SOL to the Canucks to show for it. Losing to Ottawa and New Jersey hurt. Of course...that was all without Frans.
- Speaking of which...Okposo grabs the headline but Frans Nielsen is indeed playing tonight after missing the last seven games with a groin strain. Rick DiPietro, who sat out yesterday with the flu, is apparently ready to go.
- Sadly, the Isles no longer have Capitals Kryptonite Dwayne Roloson to throw at tonight's foes...
- At the other end, both Capitals goalies have been battling the injury bug.
Where Does Okposo Fit?
The short answer is, "everywhere," but with Matt Moulson - John Tavares - P.A. Parenteau being a consistent line, how do they work K.O. back in? Why, on a line with Nielsen of course, the safe-keeper for all who ease their way back in.
Here's Capuano on K.O.:
"We have to control his minutes," Capuano said. "But we would not play him unless we thought he was ready to go. He’s been skating very hard with the coaches that have been working him out. We’ll have to see how the game goes, but I’m sure he’ll see some power play time."
Meanwhile, on the outside, Rob Schremp Hockey was the extra center at yesterday's practice, so...tonight we're gonna scratch him like it's 2009.
There are a bunch of discounts if you can make tonight's game, including student, military, Loudville, senior, etc. Players' wives coat drive, too. And you can bring three electronic recycling items for a ticket to the Feb. 17th game against the Broons.
Finally, repeating the rules for your First Islanders Goal (FIG) pick, if you want to be counted in the season-long tally of winners:
1) You MUST reply to the first post, or your choice may be overlooked and will not count.
2) You MUST select both a player and a time. If you don't select a time, you default to 0:01, which means whoever else chooses the same player as you likely wins.
3) Easiest way to achieve the above is to put both the player name and time in the subject line, and then put other snarky or explanatory comments in the body of the comment.
4) Picks left after the opening faceoff are invalid and subject to public shaming.
As you can imagine, it gets hairy keeping track when FIG picks are all over the place. So be good to your fellow figs.