Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America
Over the last few weeks, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle has been revisiting past games in Washington Capitals’ history in NoVa Caps’ Retro Recaps series. This Double R feature looks at a game the Capitals played against the St. Louis Blues on December 1, 2010.
Heading into their game against the Blues, the Capitals held a record of 17-6-2 (the best record in the NHL) and were riding a winning streak of three games. The Blues, meanwhile, held a record of 12-8-3 and were in the midst of a three-game skid after having started the season with a 9-1-2 record.
Young netminder Semyon Varlamov got the nod in net for the Capitals, while Jaroslav Halak started in net for the Blues. Halak had infamously stymied the Caps in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs while with the Montreal Canadiens, eliminating the Capitals in the first round in a major upset. During the offseason, Montreal had traded Halak to the St. Louis Blues for Lars Eller, their first-round choice in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and Ian Schultz, younger brother of then-Capitals’ defenseman Jeff Schultz.
The first several minutes were relatively uneventful, and the Capitals opened up the scoring when Brooks Laich scored a power play goal at the 8:12 mark, after the Blues were whistled for a “too many men” penalty. Laich scored after corralling the puck in front of the net and beating Halak, who was moving right to left across the goalmouth. The Blues themselves had two power plays, thanks to penalties by Alexander Semin (who had been credited with one of the two assists on Laich’s goal) and Tom Poti but were unable to convert on either. The Caps led 1-0 heading into the first intermission.
Like the opening frame, the second period would have to wait some time before any twine was dented. At the 10:02 mark the visiting Capitals increased their lead to 2-0 on a relatively fluky goal by forward Boyd Gordon, who backhanded a pass from the side of the Blues’ net, which bounced off Halak and Blues defender Eric Brewer and bounced into the net; former Blue D.J. King and Matt Bradley were credited with assists on the play. When that goal was announced, King received applause from the crowd in St. Louis for his assist.
The Blues scored near the end of the period at the 19:28 mark, when Alexander Steen beat Varlamov with a shot, on assists from B.J. Crombeen and Erik Johnson. Steen’s goal came on the Blues’ 23rd shot of the game. The Blues remained down by one heading into the second and final intermission.
In what had become a trend for game, the game was uneventful for the first several minutes of the third period, until Capitals Center Nicklas Backstrom scored the team’s third goal at 7:06 on a rebound for his 10th goal of the season, assisted by Mike Knuble and John Carlson. Backstrom would add an empty-net goal (his second goal of the game and his 11th of the season) at 19:25 to seal the victory for Washington, who shut down St. Louis for the final frame of play; Alex Ovechkin and John Erskine picked up assists on the fourth and final goal of a 4-1 victory.
The Capitals’ win over the Blues broke an eight-game losing streak against the Blues in St. Louis and Washington’s first win in St. Louis in 14 years; it was also the Caps’ fourth consecutive win and the Blues’ fourth consecutive loss.
Then-Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau spoke to the press after the game saying, “We didn’t have a lot of scoring chances. We didn’t generate a lot of offense I thought tonight. . . . We just were opportunistic.”
Varlamov also spoke to the press through an interpreter, “I played my best game here [Wednesday]. The team played real well in front of me, they’ve continued to do that for the last four games. St. Louis did a really good job of screening the goalie so when that happened the defensemen did a really good job of clearing the bodies out and clearing the pucks when the rebounds were there.”
The victory made Varlamov undefeated in his four starts since returning from a groin injury that had caused him to miss most of the first two months of the season. Since being recalled from a conditioning stint with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears on November 22, Varlamov had allowed just five goals on 115 shots for a Save Percentage of .957.
The Capitals traveled to Dallas to play the Dallas Stars the next day, where they lost 2-1 in a game marked by numerous penalties. They ended up losing their next eight games in a row, a streak that was documented in the documentary “24/7 – Road to the Winter Classic”. The skid knocked them out of first place in their division and conference before they eventually rebounded.
By Diane Doyle
Washington Post Game Story: Washington Capitals Solve Halak — Beat Blues 4-1
Capitals Insider — Semyon Varlamov/Caps Wins-Fourth Straight
St Louis Post Dispatch: Blues Skid Reaches Fourth Straight
St Louis Post Dispatch: Capitals 4 Blues 1