Tough Town No More – For the first time in more than 14 years, the Washington Capitals are leaving the city of St. Louis with two points packed in the cargo compartment of the team plane. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov stopped 37 of the 38 shots he faced as he notched his fourth win in as many starts and the Caps pushed their own winning streak to four straight games.
Varlamov was brilliant from the start, stopping all 13 shots he faced in the first and all 15 sent in his direction in the third. The lone blemish on his night was an Alexander Steen shot that had eyes and floated through a maze of players in the final minute of the second.
In a building where goals have been hard to come by for the Caps for a long time, Brooks Laich got Washington started offensively in the first frame. After drawing a boarding call on the Blues’ Jay McClement behind the St. Louis cage, Laich parked to the left of Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak and was in perfect position to park a rebound when some slick passing brought the puck to Nicklas Backstrom in the right circle. Halak stopped Backstrom’s bid, but was helpless as Laich deposited the loose change to give the Capitals their first lead in this city since before the lockout.
The Caps got a goal from Boyd Gordon midway through the second and a pair from Nicklas Backstrom in the third, the second of which was an empty-netter.
Four Straight – Varlamov has started and finished four straight regular season contests for the first time in more than a year and the second time in his NHL career.
The 22-year-old Russian goaltender started and went the distance in four straight from Nov. 21-28, 2009. His current personal four-game winning streak matches the longest run of his NHL career. He won four straight from Oct. 15-29, 2009 and again from Nov. 25-Dec. 7, 2009.
Varlamov is now 4-1 with a 1.72 GAA and a .939 save pct. on the season. He is 4-0 with a 1.23 GAA and a .957 save pct. during the life of his current streak. Varlamov has been named one of the game’s three stars in each of the last four games.
Road Warrior – Laich has scored six of his seven goals this season on the road, and four of his six road goals have come on the power play. Laich’s lone goal on home ice this season came in the team’s home opener, a 7-2 win over the Devils on Oct. 9.
First! – Washington’s second goal of the night came at 10:02 of the second after a goalmouth scramble in front of Halak. Boyd Gordon got credit for the tally, his first of the season. Tom Poti and D.J. King collected the assists on the play, the first helpers of the 2010-11 campaign for both players.
Ice, Baby – departed Caps forward Tomas Fleischmann, who was dealt to Colorado for defenseman Scott Hannan on Tuesday, averaged 14:20 per game in ice time in his 23 games with the Capitals this season. Fleischmann averaged 2:13 per game in power play ice time, seventh on the team.
With the Caps getting just two power play chances on the night, it’s difficult to tell who’ll be benefiting from Fleischmann’s departure in terms of increased power play time. Rookie center Marcus Johansson did log 39 seconds worth of extra-man time during the two power play chances the Caps did enjoy in Wednesday’s game. That’s nearly double the 21 seconds he averaged in extra-man time per game prior to the Fleischmann trade.
Big John –John Erskine has been solid on the Washington blueline all season, skating in each of the first 26 games of the campaign for the first time in his nine-year NHL career.
When the Hannan-Fleischmann deal was announced, it looked as though Erskine might end up being the odd man out of the lineup on some nights, but it may not happen right away. Poti left Wednesday’s game with an injury and played just 11 minutes on the night.
Erskine recorded an assist on Backstrom’s empty-net tally, the defenseman’s fourth helper and seventh point of the season. Already owning a single-season career best with three goals this season, Erskine has now surpassed his point total (six) from 2009-10 and has matched the second highest single-season total of his career. He also had seven points in 2006-07, his first season with the Capitals.
Erskine is two points shy of matching his single-season high of nine (two goals, seven assists) established in 2007-08.
Swap Meet – A July trade between the Capitals and the Blues sent winger D.J. King from St. Louis to Washington and minor league forward Stefan Della Rovere in the opposite direction.
Tonight’s game marked King’s first return to his former home since the deal, and the first game he had played in for Washington since a Nov. 9 game against the Rangers in New York.
St. Louis summoned Della Rovere from AHL Peoria on Wednesday and he made his NHL debut that night against the Capitals, the team that drafted him in the seventh round (204th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
King played 7:44 in the game against his former teammates, picking up an assist, his first point as a member of the Capitals. He also recorded a pair of hits and a plus-1 on the night.
Della Rovere skated 6:47 in his NHL debut, registering a pair of hits.
Home Cooking – St. Louis has now lost two straight games at home for the first time since suffering successive setbacks to Colorado and Nashville, respectively, last March 16-21. The Blues went 13-1-1 on Scottrade ice between those two losses last March and tonight’s loss to Washington.
That’s The Way (uh-huh, uh-huh) I Halak It – Halak stymied the Caps in the final three games of the first-round playoff series between the Caps and Montreal Canadiens last spring, but Washington got the better of the goalie – now in his first season in St. Louis – on Wednesday.
After going 8-1-1 with a 1.46 GAA and a .944 save pct. in his first 10 starts this season, Halak is now 2-6-1 with a 3.55 GAA and an .871 save pct. in his last nine starts.
By The Numbers – The Capitals outhit the Blues, who played on the road in Chicago on Tuesday night, 30-21 in Wednesday’s game … John Erskine led the Capitals with five hits on the night … Karl Alzner paced the Capitals with four blocked shots … Matt Hendricks led the Caps with a 10-for-13 night (77%) in the face-off circle.