After yesterday's not-shocking-but-still-deflating Vanek panic, New York Islanders fans find themselves in the familiar position of conjuring reasons to carry on.
It's not like the 2013-14 season was looking all that salvageable at the 57-game mark anyway, with the team in eighth place and nine points behind its nearest Metro foe. But the virtual confirmation that it's time to shop Vanek puts another "walking dead" cast on the season. Even if you never expected the Islanders to repeat last year's playoff qualification, the thought that they would at least be in the conversation come February was a reasonable one -- and one that now seems futile.
Unlike Internet commenters, however, players don't have the luxury of going all emo on the season on Feb. 4. So the Islanders have to commit to discarding distractions like the Thomas Vanek rumblings and focus on beating a flawed opponent. If they get the goaltending tonight, their offense usually does enough to make it a game. But that big "if" is easily often undone by a player like Alex Ovechkin, as well as a Capitals power play that is clicking at 26 percent on home ice and could feast on the Isles' league-worst PK.
Islanders (21-28-8, 8th/Metro) @ Capitals (25-22-9, 6th/Metro)
7:30 p.m. EST | NBC Sports, TSN2 | WRHU/WRCN
[GTE Offspring] Center
Capital lobbyists: Japers' Rink
Ah, but you know who else has a very similar "we better score three" problem? Tonight's opponent. Via Japers':
0 - Number of games the Capitals have won this season in which they've failed to score three goals (including the team goal awarded for a shootout win), making them the only team in the League with that distinction as they sport an 0-18-5 record in those games
Anyway, befitting their own lot as a 21-28-8 team, the Islanders are already getting the "don't take them lightly" treatment from NHL.com:
"[When] we talked about the Islanders, first thing I said out of my mouth is, 'Ignore the standings. Ignore a lot of their statistics because they've played a lot better lately,'" Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "It is a Metro game. We need the points, they need the points.
"If you look at our last five games against them, they've been really good hockey games..."
A peek at the Metro standings underlines how costly and painful the Islanders' misses have been this season: Six non-Pittsburgh teams separated by four points, where even a mildly better showing against any of their Metro foes would change the story. (But we've heard that story so many years before.)
No surprise, the Islanders will start Evgeni Nabokov. Somewhat surprising, Eric Boulton re-appears.
In a bit of bright news, Travis Hamonic traveled with the team and skated this morning, though he's not expected to play. Still, the prospect of actually having him and fellow concussion victim Lubomir Visnovsky in the same lineup nears (just in time for an Andrew MacDonald trade?).
Michal Neuvirth starts for the Capitals, his third consecutive in a season where the Capitals are feeling like Isles fans about their goaltending. The Capitals come in limping in the literal sense, with a load of injuries. Tune in at game time to see who's healthy enough to go.
In the States, this game is on NBC Sports Network because it is Late '80s/Early '90s Rivalry Night.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight's capital battle here.
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