Washington Capitals At St. Louis Blues Preview: Blues Need Five Points To Clinch Central.

Rob Carr

Tonight would be a good game to get to work on those last five points needed to clinch the Central Division.

Five points. Five more points for the Blues, or five points lost by the Colorado Avalanche (or any combo thereof) will get the Blues their second Central Division championship in three seasons. The Blues are two points behind the Bruins for the Presidents' Trophy. Top spot is within reach.

If the Blues can win. Boy howdy, is tonight a winnable game. These Capitals aren't playing like the team that dismantled the Blues 4-1 back in November. They're crumbling down the stretch. The Caps haven't won in regulation since March 18th, and every loss diminishes their chances of making the postseason.

The issue for the Blues is the fact that they're not playing their best hockey. Short Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues have struggled to score and have been shut out twice in their last five games. They've scored two goals or fewer in eight of their last ten. Bernie Miklasz breaks down the scoring problems thusly:

The team isn't playing well, period. Until recently the Blues' bedrock was their superiority in even-strength play. They'd built up a huge goal-scoring differential in 5-on-5 (and occasionally 4-on-4) situations. Well, that's deteriorated; over their last 10 games the Blues rank 24th among the 30 teams with a minus 8 at even strength.

The problem scoring goals is nothing new. Over their last 35 games, the Blues rank 26th in the league with an average of 2.29 goals per game. They're averaging 1.91 goals in the 11 games since Tarasenko fractured a hand.

A team is more than two players; the fact that the Blues have not been able to score recently is not limited to Steen and Tarasenko being out. It's a team problem. Two goals in the last two games is inexcusable. Four goals in three games isn't much better when you realize that two came against Buffalo in a game that the Blues could've easily lost to a better team.

There's a problem. They need to fix it. A big blow-out win against the Capitals would help, but would be difficult. A win in general? That's doable.

Concentration, puck possession (which I don't think existed against the Hawks on Sunday), pouncing on rebounds - all of these were hallmarks of the Blues' style at the start of the season. Where did it go?

Now would be a terrible time for the Blues to have their first three-game losing streak of the season. Many teams are gaining speed as the post-season approaches. It'd be a shame to have the Blues losing ground. Luckily Ryan Miller has played the Caps well this season, allowing two goals in two starts with the Sabres and posting a .975 SV%. A little goal backup for the starter from the Blues would be helpful.

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