While the Caps haven't won a single game without Alex Ovechkin in the lineup since March 30, 2004 (they lost the only game he has missed in his NHL career so far), one could easily view the current melancholy situation as one that presents somewhat muted silver linings for both the player and his team.
For the Caps, the opportunities abound for every player on the team to step up where they might have thus far been over-relying on the League's best player, consciously or otherwise. It's an opportunity for Nicklas Backstrom to re-assert himself as an offensive threat and register his first goal... or even strength point... or primary assist of the season. It's an opportunity for Chris Clark to get into the goal column. It's an opportunity for Tomas Fleischmann to continue his development as a scorer and for Alex Semin to prove that he can be every bit as good as he has been when he's the primary focus of an opposing defense. It's an opportunity for the defense and goaltending to tighten up a bit and win a game in which the offense doesn't provide four or more goals of support. It's an opportunity for every single player to raise his game a notch or two - it's in situations like these that players' mettle is tested. We'll see who responds.
For Alex Ovechkin, a little time away from the game to focus on what really matters might be just what the doctor ordered (albeit the result of horribly trying circumstances). Only Alex knows how much his grandfather's health has been weighing on him these past days and weeks, but everyone who has been watching him knows how much his own on-ice struggles have impacted his play. Perhaps this trip and a taste of home will reinvigorate the Great Eight, and if he takes the inspiration to re-dedicate himself to the game in his grandfather's honor, well, look out once he returns. And, if as some suspect there's something slightly off with AO physically (left over from when he left practice early a few weeks ago, perhaps), a few days away from the rink won't hurt on that front either.
Fortunately, tonight's opponent - Nashville - is a team that the Caps should be able to beat, with or without Ovechkin. The Preds are the very picture of mediocrity so far - four wins, four losses; they're scoring a lot but allowing a lot of goals too (thanks, in part, to sub-par goaltending); and their special teams have hardly been special at all. Sure does sound familiar, doesn't it? But the Preds are 1-3 on the road and the Caps are 2-0-1 at home - this is definitely a "should win" for D.C.
So expect an entertaining game (too bad you won't be able to see it without buying a ticket), and pay particular attention to who steps up and who disappears in the absence of AO - it'll tell you a lot about those players.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Wade Belak thinks Donald Brashear is tough, and he would know.... Weekly Power Rankings are up at CBC (Caps down two spots to 12), CBS (down two spots to 11), The Hockey News (down five spots to 10), and SportingNews (down two spots to 10).... What's the most impressive record in Caps history? Given the current state of the game, I went with Olie Kolzig's 301 wins.... As promised, KCK's Flickr album from a weekend in Hershey. Very nice.