Caps ghosts in STL - Head to Big D, Kuzy where are you?Update: Benn out
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UPDATE: The Dallas Stars rule out Jamie Benn for tonight’s matchup vs Washington as per NHL.com. Valeri Nikushken will play on his line with Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov.
The struggling St. Louis Blues took care of a Capitals squad that looked disinterested for most of the game as they made Braden Holtby look pedestrian in a 5-2 win at Enterprise Arena on Thursday night. While the Blues played well enough to win and deservedly so, the Caps who had the lead at one point looked like the team in the bottom of the standings and now have their 5-game road winning streak halted. From goaltending out they could have been better as the team was unable to gain any sustained pressure and looked like they were getting beat to most pucks and lost many battles in the crease area.
The power play has not been clicking for Washington over the last 4 weeks or so and they were given an opportunity early in the game to take the lead and get the PP going but failed and St. Louis made them pay and opened the scoring shortly after killing the penalty making it 1-0 on a Robert Thomas goal that he tipped past Braden Holtby. Coach Todd Reirden changed the 1st PP unit just 32 secs into the power play as the unit turned the puck over and were not engaged enough for his liking. I agreed as they seemed to be all just standing still and hoping for passes to get through. I wish that John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin would switch up more at the points, as they have in the past, during the play to mess up the defenders cheating to Ovi’s side.
Ovechkin would tie the game 1-1 scoring his league-leading 30th of the season on a slap shot that beat Blues goalie Jake Allen low. The hulking Russian became only the second player in NHL history to record 14 straight 30 goal campaigns (Mike Gartner) and it halted his personal six-game scoring drought.
The Caps would get another power play before the end of the 1st but could not get the go-ahead goal in a sign that things were not going well.
The start of the second period had some unfinished history settled. Tom Wilson was suspended 20 games for his hit (later reduced to 14) on Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist and tonight marked the first time the two teams played each other since so you expected, rightfully or not, the Blues would look to have Wilson answer for it. I find that ironic as it was Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo who had knocked Caps defenceman Michal Kempney out with an illegal hit to the head also in pre-season and was suspended. Regardless, Bortuzzo, who had been talking to Wilson all game, decided enough talk and goated Wilson into a fight.
I didn’t think Wilson needed to fight there but .. ‘tis the code I guess. It was a good scrap with many haymakers thrown as both are big fellas that know what they’re doing.
Brett Connolly would give the Caps their only lead of the game making it 2-1 just three minutes into the second, which has been the best period of the season for Washington. It was Connolly’s 9th of the year as he continues to pace out a career year. The former 1st rd pick in 2010 is only four points behind last years total of 27 and needs only 6 more goals to pass his previous high mark of 15 set each of the last two seasons. And in case you have forgotten, he’s in a contract year. Go figure! Good for Connolly as he was on his last legs when he came to DC and he’s been a great foot soldier playing in all forward lines and producing.
The game tilted back to St. Louis pretty quickly as Holtby was left to make several hard saves, but even he looked not quite as energetic and focused as he gave up some rebounds you don't normally see and at the 12:23 mark the Blues would tie it up 2-2. After Kempny went to the box for holding, the Blues power play went to work on a beautiful passing play finished off by Colton Parayko who had slid down to the circle unnoticed by the Caps penalty killers.
Sundqvist would get his own revenge on the Caps by scoring his 7th goal to put the Blues up 3-2 with just over three minutes left in the period and the Blues never really looked back. Alex Pietrangelo and Tyler Bozak would each score in the third where they held the Capitals to just 2 shots on Allen.
Overall, everyone was bad for the caps tonight. It’s rare when you have a game in which you can’t find a solid effort from any of the Caps. But tonight was one of those nights. Normally I wouldn’t be too critical of a goalie who faced 42 shots and gave up 5 goals, but Holtby was off tonight and had trouble with angles and crease rebound control. I thought Pheonix Copley should have started against his former mates as Holtby looked a little off his last start as well. It was the first game of a back-to-back so it made perfect sense. It is a given that Copley will be in tonight.
Evgeny Kuznetsov looked invisible tonight. Not a good sign from your marquee player of the future. Kuzy has Hart Trophy skills but takes too many nights off to ever be considered for the award and his two-way play is not been great either.
The Caps will try and get back on the winning track tonight in Dallas as they take on a Stars team in some turmoil. Dallas CEO Jim Lites called out star players’ Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for his perceived lack of leadership from his all-stars. Both players have been getting points, but neither is lighting up the board to what you’d expect from the pair. Benn was injured in the Stars last game vs New Jersey on a questionable hit by Miles Wood. He didn’t skate yesterday and is listed as day-to-day though coach Jim Montgomery did not rule him out for tonight vs the Caps.
Dallas is 3-0-1 coming out of the Christmas break so the Caps will need to bring their A game. Hell, I’d be happy if they brought their B game after the performance in St. Louis! With Dallas averaging over 42 shots a game, I’d expect Caps coach Reirden to demand defensive responsibility from his team as Dallas can quick strike with the best of them.
Rookie defenseman Miro Heiskanen continues to play well in his first season in Dallas and was selected to the All-Star game in San Jose. Impressive for a first-year defenseman who is still learning the North American game. He can skate like the wind and will have the Caps keeping an eye on him trailing the play. His 9 goals and 19 points are good enough for second in NHL defense rookie scoring behind Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin. Look for Heiskanen to contend for the Calder Trophy by the years' end.
Game time is 8:00 PM EST from American Airlines Arena.
The Capitals have lost only 4 of 20 and yet have only a one-point lead in the division.