There is this thinking that during a marathon, a person runs against distance, not other competitors and, for many, not even against time.
You’re fighting against countless mile markers to hopefully still be standing — and breathing — at the finish line.
It’s the same way for sports whose seasons drag on, for NHL teams that play 82 regular-season games.
Opponents don’t mean as much as surviving with more to play.
The Golden Knights on Saturday night began a three-game homestand before the All-Star break and, in beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 7-3 before an announced crowd of 18,511 at T-Mobile Arena, faced a team that would qualify for the playoffs if the postseason began today.
Such matchups haven’t produced great success for the Knights, who are 11-10 against those teams holding a playoff position at this time.
A lot is made of this.
A lot shouldn’t be.
This isn’t the NFL and 16 games. The Kansas City Chiefs were really good this season. The Raiders weren’t.
It didn’t take much to establish both sides of that coin.
But you can’t, or at least shouldn’t, read much into how a particular hockey team might play against specific teams between October and early April, of how it might fare when facing those high in the standings or low, those destined for the playoffs or an extended vacation.
Not over nearly seven months of ups and downs and injuries and puck luck and hitting posts, of power-play streaks good and bad and lines that run hot and cold.
Speaking of the Knights’ top line … more on that later.
“For me, it’s about the whole season,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “We played Chicago three times this season, and they probably could have beat us all three. Everything evens out over the course of a season. As long as we’re playing the way we have over the last six weeks, I have no issue. If we lose a hockey game, so be it. It’s going to happen.”
His point: The Blackhawks are last in the Central Division and yet more than stayed with the Knights.
On the other hand, Gallant’s team absolutely outplayed Central-leading Winnipeg on Tuesday and yet left a 4-1 loser.
Most everything with the Knights this season relates back to the first 20 games, when defenseman Nate Schmidt was suspended and the team stumbled up and down the ice, hoping not to fall totally out of things before he returned.
In this manner, it sure helped that they play in the Western Conference.
Of the eight Eastern teams in a playoff spot now, all have at least 58 points. Tampa Bay is the class of the league at 76.
In the West, five of the eight have 60 or more, and yet none of the other three has more than 52.
Anaheim, which at 51 points holds the first wild-card spot, recently snapped a 12-game losing streak.
Marchessault gets hatty
“I don’t think you can look at it in terms of just pockets of games,” said Knights defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his sixth goal of the season via a power play. “Any given night, a team can come out and play their best game of the season. Sometimes, teams lower in the standings are that much tougher because they’re fighting for as many points as they can get.
“You go through stretches trying to find your game, and sometimes it takes longer than others. The only way to go is wait until the (season ends) and see where you are.”
Playoff hockey is a beast unto itself, and for this, being overly concerned about which teams you beat and which you don’t along the way to potentially qualifying becomes a secondary worry. The idea is to get there.
You will, however, get nights between October and early April where the atmosphere is playoff-electric. Saturday was one.
Pittsburgh stands at 58 points and fourth in the Metropolitan, a wild-card team today but two points behind the first-place Islanders. The Penguins were playing the second of back-to-back games, so the fact they were able to rally from down 3-1 to tie the game before allowing four goals in the final 37 or so minutes isn’t surprising.
But the second-largest home crowd in Knights history was treated to beyond an entertaining game, one that saw the team’s top line offer its most inspired play in some time, highlighted by a hat trick from Jonathan Marchessault and a goal and an assist from William Karlsson.
See. Ups and downs, hot and cold, 82 games in all, two points for a win.
What sweater the other guys are wearing matters none.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.