January 19 vs. St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Radio: WFED 1500 and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 29-9-6
St. Louis Blues 23-16-5
The Capitals continue a three-game road swing on Thursday when they make their lone visit of the season to St. Louis to take on the Blues. The Caps will make their way west with their dads, brothers and mentors in tow, as this week's journey to St. Louis and then Dallas comprises the team's annual Mentors' Trip.
Washington comes into Thursday's contest on the heels of what it hopes is an aberrational 8-7 overtime loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Monday. That loss came after the Caps roared out to a 3-0 lead by the early stages of the second period, before surrendering six goals in the middle frame. The loss ended Washington's winning streak at nine games, but the Caps maintain a streak of 11 straight games in which they've earned at least a point (9-0-2).
Video: Ovi on the Pittsburgh game and the Caps Mentors' Trip
After permitting a grand total of just three goals - none of them at even strength - in their previous six games, the Caps gave up double that total in just the middle period of Monday's game against the Penguins. Pittsburgh scored five of those goals in succession to take a 5-3 lead, but the Caps rallied to tie the game at 5-5 before falling down again, 7-5. Once again, the Caps came back and pulled even to force overtime, only to lose on Conor Sheary's second goal of the game in the first minute of the extra session.
Monday's game was certainly an outlier for the Caps when taken in the context of how they've played the game for the last several seasons. As such, it's likely not worth ruminating on for too long.
"There are probably some lessons in there about just taking care of the puck at the right times of the game against a dangerous team," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "We proved we can came back and score some goals. We scored seven goals; that's usually a pretty good night.
"There was a lot of stuff going on in that game. It was emotional and it got a little chippy for a while, it was physical. There were moments in the game where we couldn't even get out of our zone, and some moments where we absolutely dominated, too."
Even with Monday's loss, the Caps are 16-2-3 over their last 21 games, the equivalent of a quarter of a season. All five losses during that stretch have come by the margin of a single goal, and the Caps have not lost a game by more than a goal since a 3-0 loss to the Islanders on Dec. 1 at Verizon Center in a game that was 0-0 after 40 minutes of play.
Video: Rinkside Update: Nate Schmidt
Washington's seven-goal outburst on Monday moved it into the league's top five in goals per game this season, but the Caps dropped back to sixth after Tuesday night's NHL action. The Caps have averaged 3.11 goals per game this season, sixth in the league but just fourth among Metropolitan Division teams. Seven of the eight Metropolitan teams rank among the top 14 clubs in the league in terms of goal scoring.
Along with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington is one of only two teams in the league with a single-digit total in the loss column. Both the Jackets and the Capitals have nine regulations losses thus far this season, and those two teams own the league's best marks in terms of points percentage. The Jackets' .744 rate leads the league while Washington is second at .727.
With road games at St. Louis and Dallas on the horizon, the Caps are bringing in a secret weapon: their dads. Washington's annual Mentors' Trip began its almost yearly run (there was no trip in the lockout season of 2012-13) during the 2007-08 campaign, and the Caps are 10-5-0 in games that have been part of the trip over the years.
Video: Trotz updates injuries and talks Caps Mentors' Trip
"No one wants to be in the room with their dad when you don't win," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "[There is] a lot of motivation. We've seen it with teams [we've played]. I think we've had three or four dads trips in our rink, and they've been full bore, all out efforts by those teams. I'm hoping the dads put a little extra pressure on every one of their sons to be their best, and if not, I'm sure the dads will let them know.
"I'm sure the dads are very proud of their sons for doing what they do and getting to the highest level. But we'd like to give them some joy, too."
Caps defenseman John Carlson missed Monday's game with a lower body injury, but Trotz said he is "doubtful" for Thursday's game against the Blues. Trotz said the Caps may or may not recall a player from AHL Hershey, which is in action on Wednesday night.
The Blues will be finishing off a quick two-game homestand with Washington's Thursday night visit. St. Louis came home from a successful 2-1 trip through California and suffered a 6-4 home ice loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night. They'll be seeking to salvage something from their stop at home on Thursday against the Caps.
St. Louis and the Caps have met once previously this season. Washington hosted the Blues the night before Thanksgiving when Alex Ovechkin's hat trick helped the Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the Blues. That loss halted the Blues' winning streak at four straight games, and St. Louis has been muddling along in the wake of that game nearly two months ago (Nov. 23). The Blues haven't won or lost more than two games in succession since then, and St. Louis is 12-11-2 in its last 25 games, beginning with that aforementioned setback to the Caps.
Video: Alzner comments on the upcoming Caps' Mentors Trip
St. Louis is running third in the NHL's Central Division, 10 points behind co-leaders Chicago and Minnesota. The Blues are seeking to hold off the likes of Nashville, Dallas and Winnipeg, the three teams behind them in the Central. St. Louis owns a four-point cushion on the Predators, five on the Stars and seven on the Jets heading into Wednesday night's slate of NHL action.
After the Caps leave town, the Blues do as well. They'll play out a three-game road trip with visits to Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and Minnesota leading up to the NHL's All-Star break at the end of January.