I, like a lot of Blues fans, have a soft spot for the Washington Capitals. Maybe it is because of T.J. Oshie. Maybe it is because I believe that a player as great as Alex Ovechkin deserves to win at least one. Maybe it is because, as a Blues fan, I can sympathize with the Caps die hards.
Whatever the reason, today’s game should be an interesting one.
After a somewhat sluggish start to the season the Capitals have had an outstanding month of December. Going 10-4 has propelled them to the top of the Metropolitan division.
They now sit at 25-13-3 with 53 points, which is only one less than the St. Louis Blues, and are showing no signs of slowing down. Especially after a 5-4 OT win over the Carolina Hurricanes last Tuesday. A game in which the Caps gave up two goals and the lead before Alex Ovechkin scored two of his own, one to tie the game and one in overtime.
But despite their recent success there are reasons to believe that the Caps could falter heading down the stretch.
For starters the Caps, much like the Blues, suffer from an incomplete roster. Unlike the Blues, who increased their talent pool during the last off-season, the Caps depth regressed. Gone are Nate Schmidt, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams yet no big off-season moves were made to replace them.
Secondly, the Capitals are extremely top heavy. Ovechkin’s 26 goals make up almost 21% of the team’s 125 total goals. For comparison Vladimir Tarasenko only accounts for 14% of his team’s goals. Connor McDavid only accounts for 12%.
Lastly, to go along with the lack of depth and over dependence on Ovi, if one of the Capitals key players like Ovechkin, Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom or John Carlson (who has been averaging a career high 26.20 TOI) were to go down with a long term injury then the rest of the team would be unable to pick up their slack. Much like how the Blues offense has struggled in the absence of Jaden Schwartz.
However, despite the odds being stacked against them the Capitals continue to #GoCapsGo. They have the fourth best goal differential in the eastern conference (+11), have scored the 11th most goals in the NHL (128) and are 16-5-0 at home.
As for our Boys in Blue, while one game does not a season make, it sure was frustrating as hell to watch them all but lay down for the Flyers in yesterday’s game.
The Blues came into Philadelphia with a 3 game winning streak and were starting to look like the Blues team that had been atop the western conference for most of October and November.
However, they left the city of brotherly love nursing a 3-6 ass kicking (which was not even as close as the lopsided score might suggest), dragging a disgruntled starting goaltender who watched his team play better defense without a goalie than they did with one in net, and absolutely no semblance of a team identity except 18 players that what to skate around and watch someone else do the work.
Despite a lot of negatives in yesterday’s game there are still a few positives that the Blues can focus on moving forward.
Ivan Barbashev scored his first goal of the season with the Blues. After an impressive postseason with the club Barbashev failed to impress the Blues coaching staff during this season’s training camp and failed to secure a roster spot in a lineup that had been depleted by injuries.
However, since his latest call up the Russian winger has shown glimpses of his former self and worked himself into a position alongside Tarasenko. He was one of only a few Blues players that looked like they remembered there was a game yesterday and finally was rewarded with a much deserved goal.
The Blues struggling offense managed to score more than two goals. A feat that the team had accomplished only twice in their last twelve games and only one that wasn’t a result of an empty netter.
Tarasenko had two assists. Paul Stastny scored his second goal in as many games and has a three game point streak. Colton Parayko scored his first goal in 11 games.
Carter Hutton will be back in net against the Capitals. While I agree that Jake Allen was hung out to dry by his team yesterday and he has not been the only reason the Blues aren’t winning, it is hard to argue with the success that Carter Hutton has had. His current save percentage of 94.7% is the best in the NHL and he is 3-0 in his last three starts.
While he cannot maintain his current pace forever, the Blues need to take advantage of his hot streak while they can.
If the Blues play like they did against the Flyers this game will be over before it begins but if they can score early, control the pace of play and keep the Caps stars off the score sheet then #StarterHutton will continue to be a thing.
Thanks for reading and Go Blues.