Washington Capitals @ St. Louis Blues
Washington: 17-6-2, 36 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 10-22-32 in 25 GP
Shot differential/game: +3.1
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Mike Green, D Tom Poti, D Tyler Sloan
Starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth (12-3-1, 2.63, .912), though Semyon Varlamov (3-1-0, 1.88, .928) has been hot. The Capitals play tomorrow against Dallas as well. I expect Neuvirth tonight and Varlamov tomorrow.
Player to watch: D Scott Hannan
St. Louis: 12-8-3, 27 points
Leading scorer: Andy McDonald (8-9-17 in 23 GP) and David Backes (4-13-17 in 23 GP)
Shot differential/game: +4.4
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Roman Polak, LW David Perron, F T.J. Oshie
Starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (10-6-2, 2.37, .911)
Player to watch: C Jay McClement
The Blues are losers of three straight, most recently losing for the first time in regulation on home ice this season, 7-5 to Chicago. The Capitals have won three straight, most recently 3-2 shootout victory over Carolina.
1) Block shots. The difference between Corsi and Fenwick against Carolina was staggering. While Carolina came out slightly ahead in Corsi, Washington won by quite a bit in Fenwick. That means the Capitals blocked (proportionally, and actually) a lot of shots. See the Blues' shot differential? Yeah, blocking their shots (and not having the Caps' own shots blocked) might be important.
3) Play very fast. The Blues may be young and fast up front (reminding me of last year's Avalanche) but their special teams aren't too great. Pressure the Blues' D to draw penalties and attack, attack, attack. The Blues are good at 5-on-5 but not as good in other situations. Meanwhile, the Caps are pretty good in all situations. Both teams are pretty undisciplined too.
4) Control TOI distribution. More Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin means more defensive McClement for the Blues. And better, less King. Indications are that DJ King will be in the lineup against his former team. Give him the early fight against Cam Janssen and then not much else.
5) Rattle the guy in net. I'm sure you know who I'm talking about. Drive the net hard, pass the puck quickly around (like Detroit, against a very good San Jose team, in the game I saw this morning--Detroit was clinical in puck possession and shot attempt prevention) and get screens and bodies in the front of the net. Playoff hockey.
I think Michal Neuvirth will have some early struggles, but settle in nicely. The opposite of the other guy in net. And Marcus Johansson will pick up some pointers from Patrik Berglund. Capitals 3, Blues 2.