St. Louis (28-26-9) at Washington (34-20-10)

By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO, STATS Writer Wednesday, Mar 2, 2011 Puck Drop: 7:00 pm EST Thu Mar 3, 2011

Timely scoring and strong defensive play are providing a spark for the Washington Capitals. More matchups with last-place opponents may keep them rolling.

The Capitals will try to make things a bit easier on themselves when they host the struggling St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Washington (34-20-10) appears to have overcome a sluggish stretch by winning four of five after going 3-5-2. However, all of those wins have come by one goal, and the lone defeat was a 6-0 trouncing at the hands of the New York Rangers on Friday.

The Capitals, though, followed that up with a pair of come-from-behind victories to sweep a home-and-home set with the last-place New York Islanders. They erased a two-goal deficit and scored twice in the third period in a 3-2 win Saturday before Alex Ovechkin’s(notes) overtime goal clinched a 2-1 home victory Tuesday after Brooks Laich(notes) forced the extra session with 47.2 seconds left in regulation.

Despite the slim margins, coach Bruce Boudreau is looking on the bright side.

“It’s not all gloom and doom; 78 points. How many teams have more than that? Eight? Seven in the whole NHL? I think our goaltending has been very good,” he said. “I’m looking at the positives; the penalty killing, the defensive play. You take that 6-0 game out of the equation and we’re giving up nothing. That’s a real positive sign.”

Washington held the Islanders scoreless on eight power-play chances the last two games after giving up two goals on four opportunities versus the Rangers.

Michal Neuvirth(notes) has won three of his last four starts with a 2.23 goals-against average and a shutout. He stopped 57 of 60 shots in the two games against the Islanders, increasing his win total to 20 to tie the franchise rookie record set by Bob Mason in 1986-87.

The Capitals could continue to see success defensively against last-place St. Louis (28-26-9), which is coming off Tuesday’s 6-0 loss to Calgary after opening the home-and-home set with a 1-0 road defeat Sunday.

Washington visits Florida on Sunday for a fourth straight game against a last-place team before concluding its season series with Southeast Division-leading Tampa Bay the following night.

While the Caps are thriving defensively, Ovechkin is providing some scoring punch with five goals and five assists over the last nine games. The star left wing has two goals and one assist in two home meetings - both wins - against the Blues. He set up one of Nicklas Backstrom’s(notes) two goals in a 4-1 win at St. Louis on Dec. 1.

Backstrom, though, has four goals in 38 games since, and none in the last five.

St. Louis has dropped five of six and Tuesday’s loss came in a lethargic effort that included giving up five third-period goals to the Flames.

“It’s an immature way of playing the third period,” center Alex Steen(notes) said while claiming it was “fair to say” that the Blues gave up.

Steen scored the Blues’ lone goal against Washington in December, but has just two in the last 20 games and none in six.

David Backes(notes), the team leader with 23 goals and 46 points, is also struggling. He has one goal in six games after getting four points in the previous two.

Team Stat Leaders



Thursday, Mar 3