The Caps take to the road to open the month of December with a visit to St. Louis. There, they will find…..
Uh, yeah, that’s right. Jaroslav Halak will probably be starting for the Blues in goal, given that he has appeared in 18 of the 22 games the Blues have played thus far (and Ty Conklin played last night). But there is more to the Blues than…
Yes, they have quite a promising defensive corps playing behind…
I beg your pardon, but is all that “Halak-ing” really necessary? It’s not as if the Caps haven’t seen…
Now cut that out! St. Louis has won 12 games so far with more than just…
Alright, that cuts it. I’ve had about enough of this shouting “Halak” and the creepy laughter. Who in blazes are you, anyway?
Well, I guess “HALAK!” sounds more intimidating than “CAREY!” but still, there is more to the Blues than their new goaltender. Here are the overall numbers (before last night's games)...
Truth be told, there isn't much to the Blues' offensive statistics. Andy McDonald leads the Blues in scoring (8-9-17), but his point total would be good only for a tie for fourth on the Caps. Statistically, his career scoring line per 82 games (21-36-57) looks a lot like ex-Cap Brendan Morrison (18-36-54), the difference being that McDonald still seems to have gas in the tank at age 33. Last season McDonald finished 24-33-57 in 79 games. So far this season he has been something of a jack-of-all-trades, logging more than a minute a game on the penalty kill, almost four minutes on the power play, and 15 minutes a night to take up the remainder of his 20 minutes a night. He has been productive of late (6-6-12, plus-3) in his last ten games. What he does not have is much experience against the Caps. Since the lockout McDonald has faced the Caps only three times (1-2-3, plus-2).
While McDonald centers the top line, the second line features three players, all of whom have played in the pivot this season. Patrik Berglund is the nominal center of this group, and he goes into tonight’s action as the Blues’ second leading scorer, behind McDonald. Berglund had a fine rookie campaign two years ago (21-26-47 in 76 games) but suffered something of a sophomore slump last season (13-13-26 in 71 games. Through 22 games this season he is on a pace closer to that of his rookie year, having put up five goals and nine assists so far. But with T.J. Oshie on the shelf for perhaps the rest of the season with a broken ankle, more production out of Berglund is needed to take some of the pressure off the defense and…
Yeah, Halak. Flanking Berglund on Tuesday against the Blackhawks and perhaps Wednesday against the Caps are Vladimir Sobotka and David Backes. Sobotka is in his first season with the Blues after spending parts of three seasons in Boston. Offense is not, at least not yet, a featured part of his game (6-16-22 in 134 games with the Bruins). He has yet to record a point against the Caps (three games). On the other side, Backes is 3-10-13 through 22 games and has not registered a goal in his last seven contests. A second line of Backlund, Sobotka, and Backes with a line of 9-22-31 leaves much to be desired in terms of offensive production.
The defense is a mix of youth (Alex Pietrangelo, Erik Johnson, Nikita Nikitin) and veterans (Erik Brewer, Barret Jackman). Of the ten defensemen dressing for the Blues so far this season, only Brewer is older than 30, and he is only 31. It is not a group that will contribute much in the way of offense (only eight of the 54 goals scored by the Blues so far), but given the Blues’ defensive success so far (seventh in goals allowed per game, lowest shots allowed per game), it has been an effective group in its own end. Alex Pietrangelo leads the group in scoring (1-11-12) and is logging almost 21 minutes a night in his first full season as a 20-year old.
Which brings us to…
Yeah, Halak. Jaroslav Halak has been the anchor in net that the Blues hoped he would be when he was obtained from Montreal for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz last June…sorta. Tied for eighth in wins (10), ninth in goals against average, Halak has been effective, but as far as efficiency his .911 save percentage (tied for 14th in the league) might be more a product of the Blues’ ability to keep shots from getting to the net than Halak’s ability to stop them once they get there. The odd part about Halak’s performance so far is that in games in which he faced fewer than 25 shots he is 2-5-0. In games in which he faced at least 25 shots he is 8-1-2. Caps fans might not be surprised by that contrarian trend, remembering as they will that he stopped 131 of 134 shots (a .978 save percentage facing almost 45 shots a game) in winning the last three games of last spring’s playoff series with Montreal against the Caps.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
St. Louis: Brad Boyes
In the 2007-2008 season Boyes put up 43 goals, and it looked as if the then 25-year old had a bright future as a high-end goal scorer. Well, since then he has scored 33 and 14 the past two seasons, and he is on a pace for 19 this season. Not bad, perhaps, but well short of his promise. He did have a four game goal scoring streak from November 11-19, but followed that up with a four game streak without a goal that continues into Tuesday’s game against Chicago (note: he did have a goal last night). That 2007-2008 season was the last time he potted a goal against the Caps – two, in fact, in a 4-3 St. Louis win. In two games since, he is without a point.
Washington: Marcus Johansson
With Tomas Fleischmann relocating to Denver, Johansson might be relocating to the second line. He is on a mini-run (1-2-3, plus 3 in his last two games). This will be only his second game against a Western Conference team (he was scoreless against Nashville in the Caps’ 3-2 overtime win on October 16th), and he has yet to register a point in three games played on the road so far.
1. Discipline. On November 19th the Blues converted two of seven power play opportunities against Ottawa. In five games since, St. Louis has only one power play goal in only 13 opportunities and no power play goals in the last four games. The Blues have only 11 goals in those five games overall, five of them coming last night. Stay out of the box, and the Blues might have trouble scoring otherwise.
2. Avoid the eight ball. In two of the last three road games the Caps allowed three goals in the first period. They were shutout in both of those games by 5-0 scores. In the one game they got out of the first period without a blemish, they won, 3-2.
3. Closing out. The Caps are 11-0-0 when leading after two periods. To keep that mark in this game they have to do a good job in closing St. Louis down in the third period. The Blues are tied for 20th in third period goals scored; the Caps are tied for the ninth fewest number of third period goals allowed.
In the end, the game might be as much mental as anything else. Jaroslav Halak is the latest “hot” goaltender to snuff out Capital playoff hopes, and there is the possibility that the memories linger. Getting off to a good start is always a good thing, but would be especially helpful tonight. None of the Caps have especially big career numbers against the Blues, but then again, there aren’t a lot of games played against the Blues to build that kind of resume. Mike Green does have two goals in three career games against the Blues but has only one goal in his past nine games (none in his last five). Maybe it’s his night.
Caps 3 – Blues 2