CAPITALS (41-13-7) at BLUES (27-25-9)
Washington 8-1-1; St. Louis 5-4-1
This is the only meeting of the 2009-10 season between these teams. Semyon Varlamov picked up his second NHL win with a 29-save performance as the Capitals took the most recent matchup, 4-2, on Dec. 18, 2008 at the Verizon Center.
Picking up two points before the Olympic break is far more imperative for St. Louis at this point, but Washington probably feels as though it has some things to iron out after its 14-game winning streak came to an end. The Capitals have lost consecutive games, both by 6-5 finals, and have yielded 23 goals in their last five games.
"I think we're trying to do too much with the puck instead of trying to put it up the boards," defenseman Jeff Schultz
said. "It seems like were trying to force it up the middle. Teams take it away and we're still trying to do it. In our zone we're watching instead of moving and closing in on the [opposing] players. It's giving them time and space. We get running around and that's when you get in trouble."
In spite of the back-to-back defeats, Washington's offense remains as scary as ever. After going all season without a player recording a hat trick, the Capitals have now had one in three straight games: Alex Ovechkin
against Pittsburgh, Brooks Laich
against Montreal and Alexander Semin
against Ottawa. But while Ovechkin's sparked a rally in an overtime win, Laich and Semin haven’t been able to enjoy theirs nearly as much.
"Anytime you score 10 goals and two guys have hat tricks in the last two games, you should be able to win the games," defenseman Brian Pothier said Thursday. "We've scored 10 goals. That should be enough to get us a win. But on the backside of the puck we didn't play as well as we need to. It was the same as [Wednesday] night. We turned the puck over and gave them a lot of chances they didn't have to work really hard for. We gave them a lot of turnovers."
Has St. Louis finally figured out the secret to winning at the Scottrade Center? The team with the worst home record in the League has taken the first two of a three-game homestand that concludes Saturday. After blowing a two-goal, third-period lead before beating the Red Wings in a shootout, the Blues did things the easy way on Friday by blanking the Maple Leafs, 4-0, Chris Mason stopping 30 shots for his second shutout of the season.
"For the most part, we did a pretty good job of clearing the shooting lanes," Mason said. "Just seeing the puck pretty good."
Ovechkin, on a tear since being named Washington's captain, has nine goals and 10 assists during a nine-game points streak and is also plus-13 during that span. Semin has four goals and three assists in his past four games. Laich has three goals and two assists in his last two games.
has goals in consecutive games for St. Louis. Erik Johnson has a goal and two assists during a three-game points streak. Alexander Steen
has four goals and two assists in his last eight games.
Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn has been battling flu-like symptoms but is likely to play Saturday. Forward Jason Chimera
and defenseman Tom Poti
are out with groin injuries. … Blues forward Keith Tkachuk missed Friday's game and is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
How rare is it for a team to drop a game when one of its players records a hat trick? Not counting the two recent Washington losses, teams are 49-1-0 this season under such an occurrence.
Coming off an injury absence, Varlamov made his first two start in more than two months against Ottawa and didn't look sharp, giving up six goals on 28 shots. Coach Bruce Boudreau didn't hide his displeasure with the second-year goalie, who is still 16-2-3 in his young career.
"I don't think he was ready to play," he said. "I don't know if it was slow, rusty or a combination of both. You can use whatever term you want -- I don't think he was ready to play. He knew he was going to play. He's had 12 days of practice and [an AHL] game under his belt. It's his responsibility to be ready.
"When you say he's rusty or whatever; that's an excuse, and excuses can't be tolerated. One goal went right through the legs -- he's been making that save since he was seven years old."