Capitals-Blues Preview

Another loss to a division rival their last time out has left the St. Louis Blues in an even more tenuous position as they look to hold onto first place in Western Conference.

They’ll try to get back on track and strengthen their grip on the top spot when they host a desperate Washington Capitals team Tuesday night.

St. Louis (52-19-7) has dropped two in a row since a 5-1-0 stretch, falling 4-2 on Sunday to a Chicago club playing without injured stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Lack of offense has been a major problem for the Blues, as they’ve scored two or fewer goals in eight of 10 games.

St. Louis’ lost weekend began with a 4-0 home defeat to Colorado on Saturday.

"I think the details of our game are probably lacking," coach Ken Hitchcock told the team’s official website. "We look like we’re a little bit tired, so the details that fit us so well and our energy to put those details in place are probably lacking a little bit right now. But we still have four more games to play, so we have a lot of hockey to play yet. We have to find a way to re-energize ourselves and get back to work."

Leading scorer T.J. Oshie has gone five games without a point, while captain David Backes hasn’t scored a goal in six. The absence of 33-goal scorer Alexander Steen for three games due to injury hasn’t helped. His status for this contest is uncertain.

”We had moments where we did everything to ourselves and gave (Chicago) opportunities really out of nothing,” Brian Elliott said after making 31 saves. ”It’s a wake-up call right now and we’ve got to figure it out.”

If they don’t, the Blues could find themselves seeded behind Anaheim, the Avalanche or San Jose when the playoffs begin. Boston has already surged past the Blues for the lead in the Presidents’ Trophy race, going two points up with a win Saturday.

The Capitals (35-30-13) would love to have the Blues’ problems, as they’re struggling to stay in the playoff race. Washington earned a critical victory Saturday, overcoming a 3-1 second-period deficit for a 4-3 shootout win on the road over the New York Islanders.

”We battled back, that’s the key,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. ”We had to do whatever was necessary to get those two points.”

The Capitals, who ended an 0-3-2 stretch, are only four points out of the second wild-card spot in the East but will need to pass three teams to get there. Washington could also still reach the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, but that’s extremely unlikely as it’s six points back with four games remaining.

”All we can worry about is ourselves,” Backstrom said. ”You can’t control anything else, but how you play as a team. We feel like we have our confidence back after this win.”

Washington seemed likely to start Jaroslav Halak in net in his return to St. Louis after being traded to the Capitals from Buffalo on March 5. However, coach Adam Oates will go with Braden Holtby instead after talking to Halak and determining that the goalie "wasn’t 100 percent comfortable" with facing his former team.

Holtby was stellar in beating the Blues on Nov. 17, making 46 saves in a 4-1 win.

Alex Ovechkin needs one goal to become the 11th player in league history to score 50 or more five times, and he had two in the November meeting. The Capitals are 5-2-1 in the last eight matchups, with Ovechkin recording four goals and seven assists in those games.

Ryan Miller, the centerpiece of the blockbuster deal that sent Halak to Buffalo on March 1, is expected to return to the net Tuesday. He won both of his most recent starts against Washington while with the Sabres, allowing one goal each time and posting a 0.92 GAA and .975 save percentage.

His most recent matchup came Jan. 12, when he made 28 saves in a 2-1 overtime road victory.