BLUES (13-8-2) at CAPITALS (12-9-1)
TV: FS-MW (HD), CSN-MA
St. Louis 7-1-2; Washington 3-6-1
This is the first and only meeting between the teams this season. Washington won both contests in 2010-11, outscoring the Blues, 7-3. In the season finale between the teams on March 3, then-Capitals forward Jason Arnott
scored with 5:19 remaining in the third period to give his team a 3-2 victory. Goalie Michal Neuvirth
made 25 saves and Alex Ovechkin
dished two assists in the win.
After watching his team lose eight of its last 11 games (3-7-1) and plummeting to eighth in the Eastern Conference, Capitals vice president and general manager George McPhee on Monday replaced coach Bruce Boudreau with Dale Hunter. The team's 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday was its fourth straight setback on the road. Hunter, who was introduced to the media as the new coach on Monday, will make his NHL debut behind the bench against the Blues, winners of three straight.
Hunter helped the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League win their first Memorial Cup Championship in 2004-05 and is the fastest head coach in OHL history to record 300 and 400 career wins. He played 19 seasons in the NHL from 1980-99, appearing in 1,407 games and collecting 1,020 points (323 goals, 697 assists) along with 3,565 penalty minutes with Quebec, Washington and Colorado.
Since the hiring of Ken Hitchcock on Nov. 6, the Blues have gone 7-1-2 and have outscored their nine opponents by a combined 25-14. The Blues have earned points in nine of their last 10 games and have catapulted from 14th in the Western Conference to fifth. On Sunday, the Blues traveled to Columbus, the team Hitchcock coached for four seasons before being relieved of his duties in 2010 and reassigned within the organization. Hitchcock would make a triumphant return, too, as captain David Backes
scored a power-play goal 7:49 into the third period to snap a 1-1 tie and give the Jackets a 2-1 win. Kris Russell
, who was traded from the Blue Jackets earlier this month, also scored in the victory.
The loss to the Sabres, the team's sixth in the last eight contests, was the final straw in the eyes of McPhee. In the setback, Ovechkin matched a career-worst with a minus-4 rating -- the last time that happened was back in November 2008. His linemates, Nicklas Backstrom
and Troy Brouwer
were a combined minus-7.
In 22 games this season, Ovechkin has 8 goals, 17 points and a minus-7 rating. The Capitals captain has scored just twice and has produced only 4 points with a minus-8 rating in his last 10 games.
"We try our best and know how we have to play, but we don't play," Ovechkin told reporters after the loss to Buffalo.
Not only did St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott
improve to 10-1 for the season following his 2-1 victory over the Blue Jackets on Sunday, but he owns the lowest goals-against average (1.31) and highest save percentage (.951) in the League for goalies having made at least 11 starts. … Capitals left wing Jason Chimera
leads the team with 9 goals and is more than halfway to surpassing the career high of 17 he set in 2005-06 for the Blue Jackets.
Capitals defensemen Mike Green
(lower body) and John Erskine
(shoulder) are day-to-day and forward Jay Beagle
(concussion symptoms) is out. … St. Louis is expected to be without David Perron
(concussion), B.J. Crombeen
(shoulder), Andy McDonald
(concussion), Kent Huskins
(ankle) and Carlo Colaiacovo
Backes ranks sixth in the League with 68 hits. He's delivered over 200 hits in each of the last four seasons, joining Dustin Brown of Los Angeles and Stephane Robidas of Dallas as the only players to have reached that mark. Matt Martin of the New York Islanders leads the NHL with 95 hits this season.
Hunter is one of just four players to have their numbers retired by the Washington Capitals
-- his number 32 was retired by the team on March 11, 2000. He captained the Capitals from the 1994-95 season until the 1998-99 season and was named to the NHL All-Star Team in 1997. He played in 872 games for the Capitals from 1987-99, producing 181 goals and 556 points. He ranks first in franchise history with 2,003 penalty minutes.