Before Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals last victory in St. Louis came with Jim Schoenfeld as the head coach and David Poile as the General Manager (1996). Thanks to Semyon Varlamov, who was outstanding in goal tonight with 37 saves, the Caps eight game losing streak at the Scotttrade center is now over. Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and an assist as Washington got some revenge on Blues goalie, Jaroslav Halak (22 saves), who had stoned the Caps in their opening round playoff loss last spring when he was with Montreal. The victory on the road pushes the Caps to 18-6-2 overall and they’ve won four straight with Varly in the cage after he returned from a lengthy absence due to a groin injury. Washington leads the Southeast Division by seven points over Tampa Bay and the Eastern Conference by four points over those two teams they don’t like from Pennsylvania.
Here are the highlights and analysis of a rare road win in the “Show Me” state:
– Typically the Caps play some of their best hockey in front of Varlamov. Tonight was not one of those games as the Blues carried the majority of the play but #1 had the backs of his teammates and he made several super saves. His positioning was excellent and he had superb rebound control. Varly also is bigger than both Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby and he plays like a big goalie. That forces opponents to try and pick corners. The result is that they often miss the net.
– Washington is banged up on the back line and it is a good thing they made the Tomas Fleischmann for Scott Hannan trade now. Hannan, who sat out this one so he could learn the Caps system by observing from the press box, is slated to make his Caps debut in Dallas on Thursday evening (830 pm on Comcast). He will be needed big time because Tom Poti, who helped set up the second goal for Washington, did not play in the third period (logged only 11 minutes of total ice time). In addition, Mike Green appeared to be favoring his right shoulder quite a bit but he gutted this tilt out. John Carlson got banged up right before the Blues only tally with 31 seconds left in period two, but he managed to persevere. John Erskine also took a hard hit in the back by Brad Winchester in the final stanza and looked to be in some pain.
– Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin, and Mike Knuble were the Caps best line on Wednesday and they were +2 each. It was Knuble’s hard, low shot on Halak that rebounded off of the goalie’s pads and right onto the stick of #19, who buried it to give Washington a key two goal cushion with just under 13 minutes remaining. Nicky also made a super feed to Brooks Laich on the power play in the first period to start the scoring (Alex Semin had the second assist on a gorgeous cross ice pass). Backstrom’s last tally came via an Oveckin pass with the net empty. The Great #8, who has not scored a goal in eight games, has eight assists during that drought, including seven during the four game winning streak. It was a very smart play by Oveckhin to get the puck to Backstrom for the tap in and close this game out with 35 seconds remaining. Sure he could have fired the biscuit into the empy cage to stop his personal goalless streak, but instead he showed his unselfishness, maturity, patience, and commitment to winning. That is what a team captain does and it is so clear that Alexander the Great is not concerned at all with his individual statistics, he is only focused on winning despite what some of those biased analysts in Canada will try to tell you. Despite the focus on the team, Ovechkin is now 3rd in the league in scoring with 33 points (8 points behind Sidney Crosby and 7 in back of Steve Stamkos).
– Another game, another one in which the opponents get more power plays than Washington. The Caps received two early power plays and tallied on one of them but after that the Blues received four opportunities with the man advantage. St. Louis carried the play but the zebras missed some calls on the Blues, including an obvious stick slash when Ovechkin had a scoring chance. Oh well, like Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said after Sunday’s win vs. Carolina, “I’ve given up trying to understand [the officiating].” St. Louis went 0 for 4 on the power play and Washington did a great job of being aggressive and forcing the Blues into some turnovers. Varlamov was also what he needed to be: the Caps best penalty killer.
Notes: The Caps won or tied the faceoff battle for the 13 straight contest (33-30) and they did it without their best draw man, Dave Steckel. Matt Hendricks, who seems to do all of the little things that help you win, was 10-3 while Boyd Gordon went 11-6…#39 sat so that DJ King could get a game and #17 had an assist on Washington’s second tally which was credited to Gordon when Halak fumbled the puck into his own cage…Green played 25:24 to lead the Caps in ice time…Boudreau did a nice job of rolling the lines and with the Caps going against Dallas on Thursday he needed to be able to do that for the second half of the back-to-back games. Varlamov’s goaltending really helped that cause…one would expect to see Neuvirth in the cage in Dallas…Washington returns home to the Verizon Center on Saturday night when they take on Atlanta for the third and final time in the regular season. The Thrashers are currently riding a six game winning streak but have lost both tilts at the Phone Booth.