WASHINGTON – A key to the St. Louis Blues' consistency and success has been their depth, and it was tested Sunday against the Washington Capitals.
Already without the injured Jori Lehtera and Patrik Berglund, the Blues lost defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to injury and captain David Backes to an ejection but still managed to secure their fifth straight victory with a 4-3 win at Verizon Center.
"This was a real gutsy win," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Missing players like that, you lose one of your top defensemen the second shift into the game, your captain goes out and we didn't 'hang on,' we played really well. There's wins and then there's really impressive wins. This was a very impressive win for us."
Shattenkirk sustained a lower-body injury early in the first period and did not return. Backes was ejected in the second period, receiving a five-minute major and game misconduct for boarding.
Alexander Steen (two goals), Dmitrij Jaskin and Vladimir Tarasenko scored for St. Louis (32-13-4), which has won 10 of 11. T.J. Oshie had three assists and goaltender Brian Elliot made 33 saves.
"It was a really good battle for us, a good test," Oshie said. "Definitely hurts losing those guys, but everyone in here stuck together and they played hard. Those guys that got more minutes than they normally get, they stepped up to the plate for us."
Alex Ovechkin scored twice for Washington (25-15-10) to give him an NHL-leading 31 goals this season. He also became the fifth player in League history to score at least 30 in each of his first 10 seasons, joining a group that includes Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mike Bossy and Mike Gartner.
The Capitals have lost six of seven (1-4-2).
"We just make mistakes that cost us the game," Ovechkin said. "We didn't execute [on the] power play, we had a bad change when Steen scored his second one. You can't do like that. I'm not going to [point a] finger on someone. We're going to learn from that and we're going to move forward."
Jay Beagle took a slashing penalty seconds into the opening period and the Blues, possessing the NHL's best power-play percentage on the road, took advantage at 2:34.
Capitals goaltender Justin Peters made saves on Oshie's slap shot from the left point and Jaden Schwartz's follow-up chance, but he kicked the puck right to Steen, who roofed a wrist shot out of Peters' reach.
Shattenkirk attempted to impede a Washington scoring chance shortly after, colliding with Ovechkin and sliding into the boards. He left for the locker room with 15:27 remaining in the first. Hitchcock did not have an update after the game.
Ovechkin's 30th goal of the season came in familiar fashion, firing a one-timer from the left circle with the Capitals on the power play at 9:50.
Backes' boarding penalty on Karl Alzner at 5:25 of the second period provided Washington with a five-minute power play, but the Capitals struggled to set up in the offensive zone, taking two shots.
Steen scored his second of the game at 11:45 when the Blues weaved through the offensive zone after an ill-timed line change by the Capitals. Steen eventually ended up with the puck and scored on his own rebound for his 17th goal of the season.
"They took a five-minute major and they got all the momentum off the five-minute major," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "I think we only had three attempted shots. We've got a good power play, and I think it's very talented, but you can't stop working on it. They just kept working hard on the [penalty kill] and they got all the momentum, basically, from our power play. They ended up scoring, getting some momentum and getting the lead."
Ovechkin's second goal came at 14:30, which he created by pressuring Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester into a turnover on an attempted breakout pass. It was Ovechkin's fourth multi-goal game in the past seven and 94th of his career, moving him past Peter Bondra for the franchise record.
Once again, poor rebound control by Peters and interior defense by the Capitals allowed the Blues to retake the lead when Jaskin pounced on a bouncing puck at 15:57.
"These are the games I need to find a way to give the team a chance to win to keep trying to earn those other starts," said Peters, who was making his eighth start of the season. "Nothing's handed to you here, obviously. I just got to continue to try to prove myself, to try to give the team a chance to win, and instill confidence in the coaching staff."
The Blues quickly turned a defensive-zone faceoff into a 2-on-1 in the third period, with Oshie teeing up Tarasenko for a one-timer that Peters was powerless to stop at 6:13 to put St. Louis ahead 4-2.
Alzner cut Washington's deficit to 4-3 at 12:28, sneaking a shot through traffic.
"Not easy losing guys to a penalty or an injury," Elliot said. "Definitely guys stepped up, we were playing not a lot of guys on defense, the forwards were battling. … Big-time game for us, so we have got to carry it back home."