Pregame #65: Washington Capitals vs. St. Louis Blues

Washington Capitals (34-20-10) vs. St. Louis Blues (28-26-9)
Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 PM
TV: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!), NHL Network
Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Previous Games:  Dec 1, 2010 WSH@STL, 4-1 W
Games Remaining: None
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals:  Stefan Della Rovere (2008 Draft Pick)
Former Blues:  Dennis Wideman (2005-07), D.J. King (2006-10)
The Enemy:   Our Bloguin Partner: Blue Note Nation, St. Louis Game Time

The Capitals are starting to roll.  After finishing off the New York Islanders in overtime on Tuesday, the Caps can claim 5 wins in their last 7 games.  They haven’t all been pretty games, but as the saying goes, “They don’t ask how.  They ask how many.”  Alex Ovechkin buried the Isles with what many people, Bruce Boudreau included, are calling it a “vintage” goal.  It’s not a vintage goal, it’s an Ovechkin goal.  He’s 25 years old, folks, not 35.  He’s still in his prime.  If he did something like that in 10 years, then it could be called a vintage goal.  It is also worth noting that after the acquisition of Sergei Fedorov in 2008, Ovechkin’s Goals Per Game average improved from 0.75 to 0.94 and his Points Per Game improved from 1.28 to 1.67 for the final 18 games of the season.  Having a legitimate second-line center agrees with Ovie. 

After some initial scoring chances on Tuesday, it took a while for the new-look Caps to start clicking; 59 minutes to be exact.  The Caps’ new additions played well in their debuts:  Jason Arnott made the scoresheet, Dennis Wideman played nearly half the game and finished +2, and Marco Sturm acquitted himself well on the top line.  Look for the chemistry to improve tonight after they’ve had a couple more practices.  Also look for the overall effort level to improve with a few more veterans on the ice and in the dressing room to hold the younger players accountable. 

The St. Louis Blues come to town on the heels of back-to-back shutout losses to the Calgary Flames, including a 6-0 shellacking on Tuesday night.  The Blues have had quite a bit of roster turnover in the past two weeks that has seen them trade away (#1) Team Captain D Eric Brewer, a veteran of 332 games in a Blues sweater, (#2) 2006 1st overall draft pick D Erik Johnson [203 games], (#3) C Jay McClement [449 games], (#4) RW Brad Boyes [327 games], and (#5) LW Brad Winchester [185 games].  In return, they received plenty of good young players and draft picks, but the roster has not had time to mesh.  The Blues have won just one of their last 6 games and have been outscored 19-13 in that span.  

Injury Report: The Capitals are expecting D Mike Green (ear, personal), RW Eric Fehr (shoulder), and D Tom Poti (groin) to miss tonight’s game. C Jay Beagle (upper body) missed the last game.  G Semyon Varlamov (knee) has missed the last two games, prompting the recall of G Todd Ford.
-The St. Louis Blues are expecting to be without RW David Perron (concussion), G Jaroslav Halak (right hand), and C Philip McRae (knee). D Nikita Nikitin (lower body) and C Vladimir Sobotka (foot) missed the Blues’ last game.

Team Record Watch:  If Michal Neuvirth wins tonight’s game, it will be his 21st win of the season, breaking a 25-year old record for most wins by a Capitals rookie, set back in 1986-87 by Bob Mason

The St. Louis Blues
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What to watch for:

Captain Clutch:  Alex Ovechkin is on a roll with 14 points in his last 10 games.  His assist on Tuesday on the game-tying goal with less than a minute left in regulation was the 300th of his career.  Two minutes into the overtime session, Ovechkin did what he does best:  Bull in a China Shop.  He shrugged off Islanders forward Frans Nielsen like a beach towel, deked goalie Nathan Lawson, and scored his league leading 9th game-winning goal and franchise best 9th overtime goal to give the Caps a crucial 2 points.  If Ovie continues to play with his usual reckless abandon, he will be unstoppable as the Caps gear up for the stretch run.  

The A Train:  Jason Arnott‘s debut in his new jersey was much anticipated, and he did not disappoint.  With several scoring chances throughout the game and a consistent physical presence in front of the net, Arnott provided the kind of offense the Caps have been sorely needing from their #2 center.  Arnott meshed quickly with linemate Brooks Laich and set him up for the game-tying goal with 45 seconds remaining in regulation on Tuesday.  If Arnott can get Laich to drive the net more consistently and can get Alex Semin back on track, that line could be unstoppable in the playoffs, especially against a #2 defense pairing.  Watch for even more fireworks against a patchwork Blues team tonight. 

Jason Arnott

Blue in Rhythm:  At least one of the Blues’ acquisitions is making an impact right away.  Right winger #25 Chris Stewart, late of the Colorado Avalanche, has scored 6 goals and 7 points in his 7 games wearing the Blue Note and 7 goals and 8 points in his last 8 games overall.   His six goals with the Blues have come in three 2-goal games:   he scored twice in his Blue debut against the Ducks, he potted two against his former team the Avs, and then one of his two against Edmonton was the game-winner.    At 6’2, 228 lbs, Stewart is a big body that can create chaos in the crease.  The Caps defense will have their hands full trying to contain him. 

Chris Stewart