It’s home again, home again for the men in red as the Caps return from a brief road trip that saw the Caps win two one-goal games, one in Montreal and one on Long Island. Tonight, the visitors are the St. Louis Blues on Alex Ovechkin Bobblehead Night. It’s been a while since the Blues visited – January 19, 2006, to be exact. Given the length of time it’s been since the last visit, we’re guessing you didn’t know…
- St. Louis has 14 sister cities. One of them happens to be Samara, Russia, which Caps fans will recognize as the hometown of goaltender Simeon Varlamov.
- Iced tea was invented in St. Louis, at the 1904 World’s Fair (Richard Blechyden did the honors). That World’s Fair also was the occasion for the invention of the ice cream cone, a product of necessity when a vendor ran out of cups and secured the assistance of a waffle vendor who rolled waffles to hold the ice cream. Oh, and Dr. Pepper made its debut at the 1904 World’s Fair, not to mention Puffed Wheat (for the record, the official name of the fair was the “Louisiana Purchase Exposition”).
- 1904 seems to have been a big year for St. Louis…in that year it became the first American city to host the Olympic Games.
- The Blues hockey team reached the playoffs in 25 consecutive years ending in 2004. They neither won a Stanley Cup nor played in a Stanley Cup final during that streak (only twice did they so much as reach a conference final).
- The same Blues hockey team reached the Stanley Cup final in each of their first three years of existence, the only times they have reached the finals. They lost on each occasion.
- In February 2008, Men’s Health magazine ranked St. Louis as the second safest city in America with respect to food-borne diseases (for the record, avoid Lubbock, Texas).
- On the other hand, St. Louis has a disease named after it – St. Louis encephalitis.
- The Gateway Arch is the tallest manmade monument in the United States. It traces a “catenary” curve, a shape formed by a chain when grasped at both ends, and is as wide as it it tall (630 feet).
- St. Louis consumes more barbecue sauce, per capita, than any city in the United States.
- It was in St. Louis that the custom in hotels of placing chocolates on guests’ pillows began.
As for the game, the Blues are coming to Washington repeating history in a sense. Similar to the last time they visited, when the Blues were on a seven-game losing streak, this year’s version is struggling in the midst of a four-game losing streak. It hasn’t been pretty. St. Louis has been outscored in this streak, 21-11 and has not allowed fewer than four goals in any of them. The overall comparison isn’t quite as unflattering, but it doesn’t suggest that the Blues are a team poised to move into contention…
St.Louis’ problem is that they get blown out of a lot of games. Of their 15 losses in regulation, seven of them have been by at least three goals (tied for 3rd most in the league with, of all teams, the Rangers). If they can keep things close, they are a reasonably successful team. They are 7-4-3 in one-goal games this season.
Comparatively speaking (that is, compared to the Caps), the Blues finish and end games poorly. Washington has outscored the Blues 36-26 in the first period of games this year, and they have outscored the Blues by the same numbers in the third period of games this year. It is only in the second period where the Blues enjoy an advantage (30-28).
Individually, it would be normal to look first at the top scorers, but there is one statistic on this team that comes screaming off the page. On a team that struggles in five-on-five play collectively (28th in the league) and individually only three of 28 skaters dressing this season are in the plus category), Patrik Berglund is +10. While it is true that he was plus-9 in his first 14 games of the season (+1 in 11 games since), it remains a noteworthy outlier on this team. Berglund also is tied for third on the team in scoring (10-10-20) with David Perron.
As far as that leading scorer goes, Brad Boyes is building on a solid scoring season last year (43-22-65) by going 16-14-20 thus far this season. However, it seems to have come at a price. Boyes is a team-worst minus-16. It should not be surprising, then, to see that he is the Blues’ leading power play scorer (9-7-16). He does have four game-winning goals among his number, though, which is half the number of game-winners registered by St. Louis so far.
Of some note is the addition of Brandon Crombeen via trade from the Dallas Stars. He started slowly with the Blues, but in his last half dozen games is 6-1-7, including a hat trick when the Blues hosted Nashville on December 8th. His other three goals have come on the road.
Where the Blues suffer, points-wise, is from the blue line. Nine defensemen have dressed for the Blues this season and the group has totaled only 33 points (6-27-33; the Caps’ blueliners, by comparison, are 16-44-60). As a group, they have but a single goal on the road (Carlo Colaiacovo).
As seems to be the case with an alarming number of teams this season, the Blues come in banged up. Erik Johnson’s adventure with a golf cart was the most notable of the injuries sustained this year. But in addition to Johnson, the Blues are missing to injured reserve: Paul Kariya (hip flexor/foot), Andy McDonald (broken ankle), T.J. Oshie (sprained ankle), and Manny Legace (concussion). Add to that Jay McKee (broken finger) and Eric Brewer (“upper body”), and you have a team with a lot of missing parts.
In goal, Chris Mason has taken up the full-time number one goaltending chores with Manny Legace injured. Trouble is, since defeating Atlanta on November 30th, 4-2, he is 0-5-1, 4.44, .869. In his last three decisions, he’s allowed four, five, and six goals. That progression spells trouble for this game. Perhaps the problem is his stick. As reported by Tom Timmerman in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"Mason uses a product called Blade Tape, a rubbery material that you peel the back off of and stick on to the blade of a stick. Among other things, it allows a player to customize the blade of his stick. Mason has the Blues logo and his No. 50 on his blade. 'It gives you a little more cushion and you can customize it, so it looks pretty cool,' he said. It's also a time saver. Mason no longer has to tape his stick. 'I actually kind of like it,' he said. 'Taping sticks takes a long time, especially goalie sticks, and I use a lot of tape on my handle. So you just stick it on the front, stick it on the back and you're done. It's nice.'"
Perhaps he should go back to taping his sticks, but not tonight, even though he has won both of his career decisions against the Caps (1.47, .937), both while playing for Nashville.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
St.Louis: Keith Tkachuk
The Round Mound whose game hasn’t made a sound in recent years (he hasn’t topped 60 points since 2003-2004) is struggling in December. He is 1-4-5, even, in eight games this month. Given the injury list for the Blues, he needs to be heard from more. In fact, he’s been kind of quiet since starting the season with goals scored in the first six, and seven of the first eight games played. He has only four goals in 22 games since that hot start. He has, however, had some success against Washington, going 12-12-24, +9, with three game-winning goals in 22 career games against the Caps.
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
Hey, it’s his night with the bobblehead thing. Besides, this is a guy who has registered at least one point in 17 of his last 19 games (17-17-34). He has ten multi-point games in this run as well. He is, like a fisherman fighting a marlin, reeling in the scoring leaders. He is only two points behind Sidney Crosby for second place in the scoring ranks, and he is only seven behind Evgeni Malkin for the top spot. He did not have an especially good game overall against the Islanders on Tuesday, although he did pot a pair of pucks. However, 12 of his 19 goals have come in the friendly confines of Verizon Center, and he is +11 in 13 home games this year. Given St. Louis’ struggles on defense, this could be a productive evening.
St. Louis looks a bit like the Islanders – clearly the lesser team, but sufficiently dangerous to make things difficult if the Caps go into a shell or try to get too cute. If the Caps stick to business, they’ll get to the 20-win mark. Seeing how Chris Mason has given up in his last three games, four, five,and six goals…
Caps 7 – Blues 3