(Teaser: there is a video at the end of this post you probably don't want to miss.)
We've whined about it all season for this shallow-depth club, but here's your official cover for futility, courtesy of James Mirtle at From the Rink: The Islanders are by his count the most injured club this season, with 276 man-games lost and counting.
The problem with the whole "excuses are for horses and hand grenades" thing? (Wait...something's amiss there.) The Capitals are third on the list, with 231. It's a sign of their depth that the Caps have done so much better, with injuries to roles every bit as significant as what's hit the Isles, save for between the pipes.
Washington Capitals (29-14-3, 2nd/East) at New York Islanders (12-29-4, 30th)
2:05 p.m. EST | Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum | MSG+
It's really something to watch what the Capitals have become, after years in the darkness and years of Ted Leonsis steadily building what is now a well-marketed machine for a fanbase come alive. It's a special moment in time for them, with young pre-UFA stars in their lineup surrounding this generation's most exciting star.
In this cap era, these windows really can open and shut very quickly, which is why it will be a terrible shame if their goaltending lets them down in this year's playoffs. If that happens, that's a precious year wasted. As someone familiar with Blues hockey, too, I've seen how the failure to get it right in goal can make a promising era feel like it never happened.
A hint of just how loaded the Capitals are: Fans can entertain idle speculation about trading Alex Semin for Jay Bouwmeester -- and not look crazy for the thought. It's hard not to feel a little sentiment for this club's zeitgeist, after watching them be annual bridesmaid with a talented '80s club and then watching curse, underperformance and desolation afflict them in the '90s and early '00s.
This is their time. Saturday they beat the conference-leading Bruins, making a declaration of what a (mostly) healthy version of their squad can do. With the Islanders at seven consecutive losses and counting, save for the whole "let-down game" theory, it's nearly impossible to imagine a scenario where the Isles get in the way.
- If Doug Weight were in the lineup, one could rub one's eyes and picture the Capitals' 23rd-ranked penalty kill being taken adantage of. Alas.
- If Wade Dubielewicz hadn't been nabbed by Columbus, one could see the cult hero making some sort of triumphant, astrologically significant storybook return. Alas alas.
- If Mike Comrie were playing for a contract -- wait: isn't he? -- one could imagine him once, just once, putting the team on his shoulders and stealing the game. Alas, alas, alas.
- If the well hadn't gone dry for Bill Guerin, Trent Hunter and Richard Park after promising starts, well ... you get the picture.
Instead, we watch the kids grow -- joined by Jack Hillen now -- and wonder which veterans are there to hold their hand, and which ones are dreaming of a way out.
You'll recall the prior two meetings with the Caps haven't gone well, although the Isles took advantage of a sleepwalking Capitals squad last time to steal a loser point before Ovechkin said, "enough of this." Sigh...with just four games left this month bookending the All-Star Game, it's not hard to envision a winless January.
Unrelated video tangent: When the NHL and its valued corporate "partner" (^cough^ pusher) RBK (vowels not included!) next unveil a round of ingenious uniform redesigns, I think they should go with and introductory presentation like this, here spruced up to mesmerizing quality by an inspired remix. Can't you just picture Alex Ovechkin rockin' it Euro-style for us sheltered North Americans? Make it happen, NHL marketing -- I guarantee we won't look away: