Saturday, February 13, 2010

Last One (Caps Game) Before the Olympic Break Tonight In Saint Louis

Caps At Blues Tonight at 7 PM CST

The Eastern Conference leading Washington Capitals (89 Points, 41-13-7) will meet the Western Conference 12th place Saint Louis Blues (63 points, 27-25-9) tonight at ScottTrade Center in Saint Louis tonight at 7:00PM Central Time. For both teams it is their last game before the 2 1/2 week break for the Olympics. It's also likely the only meeting this season between the two teams as it is the only regular season game between them and the only way they will play each other again before next season is if they meet in the Stanley Cup finals.

Before anyone decides to take the Blues lightly consider that if they were in the Eastern Conference they'd be a bubble team in the thick of fighting for one of the final playoff spots, AND they have won their last two outings: a 4-3 shoot out victory over Detroit on Tuesday Evening and a 4-0 shutout of the Toronto Maple Leafs last night. Like tonight, both the Blues' last two games have been on home ice. The Caps well if you read this blog you know the Caps have actually lost their last two games: a 5-6 Overtime loss to Le Canadiens in Montreal on Wednesday evening and a 5-6 loss in Regulation to the Senators in Ottawa on Thursday evening. While the Caps have scored 10 or more goals in back to back games before, earlier this season, this is the first time they've allowed 10 or more, let alone 12 in back to back games. The fact this eventuality comes immediately following their 14 game winning streak is, thankfully, apparently of little consolation to the team. Per Tarik El-Bashir's blog yesterday 14 of the Caps turned out in Ottawa for their optional skate/practice. What's all this mean, well that's anybody's guess but I think it means we'll see a good game tonight. A game by a group of Capitals determined to show they haven't checked out for the break regardless if they are going to Vancouver or if they are going to have the break to recuperate, practicve and get ready for the push for the Cup that starts again on March 3rd in Buffalo. A game by the Blues where they all look to win their third game in a row for only the third time this season and where they look to rejoin a cluster of Western Conference bubble teams battling it out for the last three available playoff spots with a win tonight.

Word out is that Jose Theodore will start in goal tonight for the Capitals, Semyon Varlamov will be on the bench as his back-up. Defensemen Tom Poti and John Erskine will be out with injuries tonight. John Carlson has been called up from Hershey and word is he will get a sweater tonight. Jason Chimera has been placed on IR today and Chris Borque has been sent back down to Hershey after an unremarkable performance on Thursday evening in Ottawa. Shoane Morrisonn is recovering from "flu like symptoms" but is probably going to be in the line-up tonight. I'd expect the backline to consist of: Mike Green, Brian Pothier, Shoane Morrison, Jeff Schultz, John Carlson and Karl Alzner. I'd also expect to see the only one of those guys with anything close to a free ticket to join or lead the rush be Green.

What other moves get made in this last game before the break remain to be seen but to say the Capitals defense has been porous of late is probably kind. The Capitals have allowed a whopping 23 goals against during their last 5 games (that's a GAA of 4.60), during that period they have dropped from 11th in the league in Goals Against to 20th. Based on comments by Coach Bruce Boudreau after the Senators game this unacceptable performance is something that will be the subject and focus of the team and coaching staff tonight and during the break. What changes get made a result remain to be seen, the only thing for sure is things will change. Based on the send down of Bourque and the placement of Chimera on IR, I'd also expect that Quintin Laing will play tonight for the Caps, or perhaps Tomas Fleischmann will move back over to Left Wing, given his abysmal performance in the faceoff circle the last two games. In fact it's possible both things could happen though with the exception of the faceoff circle the second line of Laich - Flash - Semin certainly hasn't looked too bad of late. I also expect to see the Caps forwards look to move the puck up the boards through the neutral zone and not start pushing the puck towards the center of the rink until they've gotten into the Blues' zone.

On the Blues side of the ice it's hard for me to guess what they'll be looking to do other then play sound hockey and proactively try and keep the Caps many offensive weapons from having much time and space at all. So I expect them to play a relatively straight-forward game, I definitely don't see the Blues trying to get into a track meet with the Caps like the Senators did on Thursday evening.

Prediction: Caps 4 - Blues 2; GWG: Mike Green.


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