When I think too much about the Capitals' up-and-down funk of a season, it scares me about how things can go when expectations are highest. Franchises that have sunk all the way to the bottom, who have crossed the barren desert and barely dodged dying of thirst before rebuilding -- they're just supposed to steadily work their way up to the Promised Land, you know? When they get as good as the Caps looked the previous two seasons, they're just supposed to keep progressing, keep taking that "next step" until they win it all, right?
Capitals (32-20-10, 5th/E) @ Islanders (23-31-8, 14th)
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Except no, there are 30 teams fighting for this same silly silver prize, and 10 to 16 of them have at least a puncher's shot in any given season, and the other 14 to 20 spend their regular season trying to prove they belong, which means tough games, and injuries to Important Players on Important Teams who have a claim to Stanley Cup contender status. Then I remember that the 1977-78 Islanders put up 111 points and lost in the first round. And the 78-79 Isles put up 116 points and lost in the second round, and people were calling for Al Arbour's head. Then the 79-80 Isles put up a measly 91 points...and won the first of four consecutive Stanley Cups and 19 consecutive playoff series.
The regular season is a marathon, the playoffs a twisted death march. Neither has all that much to do with the other. So just build your team to try and survive both, then roll the dice and play the games.
The Capitals were just demolished at home last night, 6-0 by the Short Island Smurfs. Likely adding to Capitals ennui, Mike Green received a head shot from Derek Stepan that caused him to leave the game. It was on a play where both were approaching the boards for the puck, and it came soon after Green crosschecked Stepan from behind (no call on either play), which complicates things in Colin Campbell's "mind" -- I use that term loosely -- when deciding what, if anything, to do. [Video and the usual intelligent Yahoo comments section here.]
My lead to this post was probably too dramatic, as the Capitals aren't in crisis mode or anything. But they are in fifth place and now closer to sixth in the conference than they are to fourth, at least in terms of the playoff seeds that give the division heads the first three seeds. Of course the concern with seeds, beyond home-ice advantage, is first-round matchups and the difficulty of your route through the playoffs. Since the sixth-place team usually draws the weakest division winner, sometimes that's not so bad. Usually, there's really no sense in thinking too much about any of this because it's all subject to rapid change. Just win.
Anyway, you have to assume after last night's humbling that the Capitals will be in the mood and focus to play precise, dominant hockey tonight. This is the first of an odd home-and-home, with the return trip Tuesday in D.C. The Caps have to look at this as four points to take, even though the Isles usually play them tough.
Without Radek Martinek, and with the general carnage on the Isles blueline, it will be interesting to see what Jack Capuano does with Alex Ovechkin. Presumably Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic when possible but ... oh, man, the other blueline options really are Bruno Gervais, Jack Hillen, Ty Wishart and Mark Katic? Color me impressed all over again by Thursday's OT loss in Philly.
...And while I inherently fear the Capitals' offense, it's worth nothing they've scored fewer goals than the Isles (2.63 GF/GP, versus 2.69 by the Isles).
The Islanders' bane has been soft starts, and they all know it -- but I think they get more dialed in against the better, intimidating teams. (Of course, Thursday night in Philadelphia could have spiraled away from them in the first few shifts if not for some bouncing pucks and Al Montoya.) Anyway, here's Capuano on that:
"I’m always a little worried going in because there are games that we do the right things and we get results on the scoreboard and then there are other games like Toronto where we didn’t do the necessary things that we needed to do and didn’t get the results," Capuano said. "Hopefully they understand what has made us successful and that they can execute. That’s the biggest thing - that we execute what we want to do."
Notes before the Whiteout (Whiteout?)
- Injury Update: Milan Jurcina's groin is pegged at 1-2 weeks, while Radek Martinek is day-to-day [Post]. I've only thought of this recently, but if I were Martinek in my walk year and I wanted to stay, I would totally "fall on some ice" or something right around the trade deadline. That's not a comment about Radek's character, but rather a statement about my own. I work at Initech.
- I originally forgot this, but: Unfortunately, Evgeni Nabokov (cheap Cup shortcut interruptus) will be a scratch tonight.
- On the other side, the Caps are without Eric Fehr and Tom Poti, in addition to Mike Green. That's not very many letters for three whole hockey names there.
- UPDATE: The Capitals claimed former Bruin and King (and Shark) Marco Sturm off waivers.
- Rob Schremp Hockey, who has not been traded, knows trades are part of the business. [Newsday, $5 please]
- Procedurally speaking though, now both Schremp and Nathan Lawson are on waivers. That doesn't mean they won't play tonight (we won't find out if they're claimed for 48 hours). FanShot discussion here.
- Speaking of which, here's that RSS-ish link to all the trade deadline stories on SBN. The latest I see there is discussion of the expectation (via Kypreos) that Bryan McCabe is headed to the other New York.
- Whiteout? If you're headed to the game, wear white, eh? Lots of social media trying to organize such an effort. I like someone's idea that it should turn into a campaign to demand the return of home whites.
- From Elias, via Forever1940: Moulson is only the third player in Islanders history (Gillies, Gilbert ... and no, not Gilles Gilbert) to score four consecutive goals without a teammate or an opponent scoring a goal.
- And speaking of records, did you know the 1993-94 Isles held the record for greatest deficit (12 points) overcome at this point to make the playoffs? [FanShot here]. For some reason, I can't remember what happened once they made it, but I keep picturing a guy wearing #72.
- Other FanShots: A good one-liner about Matt Cooke ... and further evidence that NHL players have no idea what Long Island is. Psst: It's not a hotel and parking lot.
And rather helpful for listening to the game on the move: The Hofstra radio app for your iPhone.
FIG: First Islanders Goal pool. You know how to do it now. If you're new, watch the others and you'll figure out where your pick (Scorer's Last Name, (assist1, assist2), Time) goes.