December 1 vs. St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center
Time: 8:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Capitals Report/Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 pm on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (17-6-2)
St. Louis Blues (12-8-3)
After tearing through November with an impressive 10-2-2 record, the Caps open up the December portion of the schedule with a quick two-game trip to the Midwest. Washington’s first stop is St. Louis, where the Caps will be seeking their first win in the Gateway City since 1996.
Washington will have a new face in its lineup at some point during this trip. Just before departing the District on Tuesday, the Caps announced they had traded forward Tomas Fleischmann to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for 31-year-old veteran defenseman Scott Hannan.
Hannan joined the Caps in St. Louis on Tuesday evening.
“He’ll be in St. Louis tonight and then we’ll practice [Wednesday] morning,” said Washington general manager George McPhee minutes after he engineered the deal. “We’ll see whether we put him in [Wednesday] night [against the Blues] or not. We might give him a game just to watch and figure out our system. That will be up to the coaches.”
A durable defenseman, Hannan has missed just 22 games in the last decade and a mere eight games in the last eight seasons. As a guy who went on some deep playoff runs with the San Jose Sharks, Hannan has never won a Stanley Cup but he does have a good deal of playoff experience in addition to 775 regular season NHL contests.
“He seems to be really excited,” says McPhee of the newest Capital. “He’s a real solid pro. Obviously we did our homework on him as a person. Matt Hendricks has played with him and [Matt Bradley], they were drafted a year apart in San Jose.”
Hannan will sport uniform No. 23 most recently worn by blueliner Milan Jurcina with Washington.
The Caps take to the road with a three-game winning streak. The three victories coincide with the return of Semyon Varlamov to the Washington nets after the goalie missed much of the early season with a recurrence of his groin injury.
Varlamov has posted a 1.30 GAA and a .948 save pct. in starting three straight games for the first time in a year. After surrendering 14 goals in a three-game losing streak (0-2-1), the Caps have allowed just four goals during the life of their current three-game streak.
The Caps are 0-6-1 in their last seven visits to St. Louis. Washington’s last win over the Blues in St. Louis came on Oct. 26, 1996. Jim Carey started the game in goal for Washington and Grant Fuhr was between the pipes for the Blues, who were coached by Mike Keenan at the time.
Both starters were pulled, Carey in favor of Olie Kolzig and Fuhr for Jon Casey.
Hockey Hall of Famers Al MacInnis and Brett Hull scored for St. Louis that night. Jason Allison scored twice for the Capitals and Dale Hunter netted the game-winner.
Washington took a 4-3 shootout setback from the Blues in its last visit to St. Louis on Feb. 13 of this year. That was the Caps’ last game prior to the 2010 Olympic break.
“St. Louis has a very strong record,” says Bradley. “I think they’ve only lost one at home. So obviously they play very well at home, no matter who is on their team. The obviously enjoy playing in front of their fans, probably the same way we do and that’s why we’re successful at home.
“Anytime you go to a building where the team has had success not only against you but at home, it’s a big challenge. The last couple of games I think we’ve played pretty well, and played pretty full games and played pretty well [systems-wise]. If we can do that against them and be smart, then we should be able to win the game.”
While the Caps were settling into their St. Louis hotel rooms on Tuesday, the Blues were up in Chicago taking on the Blackhawks in a Central Division contest. With Ty Conklin in goal, the Blues dropped a 7-5 decision to the Hawks.
Tuesday’s loss in the Windy City drops the Blues’ road record to 4-7-2. St. Louis is 8-1-1 on home ice this season, and it just lost its first game at Scottrade Center on Saturday in a 2-1 trimming at the hands of the Dallas Stars.
After a swift start, St. Louis has fallen upon hard times of late. The Blues cruised into November, and they owned a seven-game winning streak and a 9-1-2 record after a 2-0 whitewashing of the Rangers in New York on Nov. 7. An 8-1 loss to the Blue Jackets in Columbus followed three nights later, and the Blues have been sputtering since.
With Tuesday’s loss to the Blackhawks, the Blues are now 3-7-1 in their last 11 games. They’ve been outscored by a combined 45-30 in those 11 contests.
Even with their recent struggles, the Blues are still one of four Central Division teams currently situated among the top eight in the Western Conference. A mere 10 points separates the top 13 teams in the Western standings.
The Blues are struggling to score goals, but they’ve been one of the best defensive teams in the NHL this season. With the addition of goaltender Jaroslav Halak in an offseason trade with the Montreal Canadiens and his subsequent signing to a four-year deal, the Blues are seventh in the league in goals against.
The history of goaltending in St. Louis is such that Halak would crack the team’s all-time top 20 in career wins if he manages to attain 30 victories in this, his first season with the Blues. He is already a third of the way to that milestone. Ex-Caps goalie Mike Liut is the team’s all-time leader in both games played by a goaltender (347) and wins (151).
Adding Halak should halt what had been an ongoing revolving door between the pipes for St. Louis. His struggles have mirrored those of the Blues. Halak posted a 6-1-1 record with a 1.72 GAA and a .932 save pct. in the month of October, but he dipped to a 4-5-1 ledger with a 2.92 GAA and an .895 save pct. in November.
Halak, of course, is the goalie that helped engineer Montreal’s surprise first-round ouster of the Capitals in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. Halak allowed just three goals in the last three games to help the Habs rebound from a 3-1 series deficit and eliminate Washington.
“It’s obviously in the back of our minds how well he played against us,” admits Caps defenseman Mike Green. “There were some games there where he stole from us. I think there’s a little bit of a grudge against him, so hopefully we can take it to him a little bit.”
The Blues are currently playing without three of their top young players, defenseman Roman Polak and forwards T.J. Oshie and David Perron.
“They impressed us so much as the hardest working team we played last year,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of the Blues. “I think it was 4-3 we lost in overtime. When we saw them, it was the day before the Olympic break. At that point, they weren’t in the playoff race but [with] their work ethic and their skill, we couldn’t believe that they weren’t there.
“We’re thinking we’re getting a tiger by the tail, especially a team that lost for the first time at home the other night. We’re gearing up for quite a hockey game.”