St. Louis Blues vs. Washington Capitals: Game Preview and Opponent Outlook

The St. Louis Blues take on the Washington Capitals on Saturday night at Scottrade Center. The surging Blues, who have won nine of their last ten, will be taking on a Capitals team that gave them serious trouble a year ago. Both times that the teams played each other (on November 17 in Washington, D.C., and on April 8 in St. Louis), the Capitals defeated the Blues by a score of 4-1. With one of the best scorers in the league in Alex Ovechkin and another player who has had a breakout year so far in Marcus Johansson, the Caps figure to give the Blues a serious challenge again this year.

Dave Stevenson of our Capitals FanSided site, Stars and Sticks, was gracious enough to answer a few Capitals questions for us in advance of their matchup against the Blues.

1. The Capitals have a pretty impressive youth movement going on, with three players age 20 or younger. Do you feel like those three guys (Andre Burakovsky, Liam O’Brien and Tom Wilson) are playing above their experience level on the ice, or is their age evident in their play?

DS: I feel like Andre Burakovsky, Liam O’Brien and Tom Wilson are all definitely playing above their experience level on the ice. I have to keep reminding myself that Burakovsky is a rookie and that he only started playing center a few months ago because he looks like he’s been a center his entire life. Wilson has his moments where his age is evident in his play, but for the most part, he’s played like he knows his role and he’s filled that role extremely well. He’s not afraid of anyone and he’s brought an element of physicality that the Capitals had been lacking. O’Brien hasn’t seen much ice time, but when he has, he has impressed me with his hockey IQ and energy.

2. Obviously we’re seeing breakout numbers from Marcus Johansson this season. Do you believe that this is simply a quality hot streak, or is Johansson going to emerge long-term as a legitimate complement to Alex Ovechkin?
DS: I think part of Marcus Johansson‘s breakout numbers have been due to a hot streak. He’s getting quite a bit of luck with his goals, but at the same time, I think he can somewhat sustain his numbers because he’s being aggressive with the puck. The past two seasons, he seemed timid with the puck. Trotz has him playing with a lot more confidence and energy. I don’t think he’ll be a legitimate long-term complement to Alex Ovechkin because Johansson seems more reluctant to shoot the puck when he’s paired with him. However, if he can be aggressive with the puck while playing alongside Ovechkin, he could be a great complement to Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
3. With Jaroslav Halak having started the season in St. Louis last year, Blues nation saw firsthand how the Caps tried to bring in some veteran help for Braden Holtby. Holtby’s back in the dominant role again to start this year, but do you expect them to try to bring in a more stable complement for him as the season goes on?
DS: Most of that depends on how backup Justin Peters does. He hasn’t been doing well at all so far, so I think a change will happen if he doesn’t improve his numbers. I think they’d at least try out Philipp Grubauer (currently in the AHL) before making a trade because they don’t have much cap space to make one.
4. Is there anything particular in the Caps’ three victories over the past week that lead you to believe that they’ve righted the ship and are ready to start moving up the ranks in the division?
DS: There’s a lot to like about the Capitals’ past three wins. The one thing that stands out to me is the improved play of Braden Holtby. He’s been outstanding when he’s needed to be outstanding. If he keeps playing well and the Capitals keep dominating puck possession, I think the Capitals could contend for the Stanley Cup.
Thanks to Dave for giving us a Capitals point of view.
Brian Elliott is expected to get the start in net for the Blues on Saturday. The team held an optional skate on Friday which only six players participated in, so it’s difficult to know at this point if the team will make any lineup changes against Washington. There wouldn’t be any obvious reason to do so, however, as the team finally has their healthy projected lineup back together and experienced success with them against Nashville.