By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Talk about a whirlwind of opponents in a 24-hour span. That's what the Blues face here tonight.
After facing the Eastern Conference's worst in the Toronto Maple Leafs here on Friday, the Blues (27-25-9) will entertain the East's -- and the NHL's -- top squad when the Washington Capitals (41-13-7) and arguably the game's best player in Alex Ovechkin come calling on Scottrade Center. The drop of the puck is 7 p.m.
But as the Blues went through an optional skate in which only a handful or two participated in and then went through player meetings, the message was the same: whether it's Toronto or Washington, two crucial points are up for grabs.
"That's our focus," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We know we've got a different animal in here tonight. Obviously they've been playing some great hockey and are on top of the league for a reason. We've got some particular players we've got to pay attention to."
A guy wearing No. 8 might be a focal point.
"I've seen enough of him," Payne said of Ovechkin, who leads the league in goals (42), points (89) and plus-minus (43) in 53 games. "I'll get to see him up close and personal tonight. Let's not forget that that list starts with him and it moves down pretty deep. You can go 19 (Nicklas Backstrom), you can go 28 (Alexander Semin), you can go 52 (Mike Green), you can go on and on about this hockey club."
The Blues would love nothing more than to head into the Olympic break on a three-game winning streak. Friday night's 4-0 win over Toronto provided plenty of positives, but one area of concern is the amount of penalties the Blues took.
With Washington holding the top-ranked power play unit in the league, converting on 25.4 percent of its chances, the Blues would be far-pressed to ask themselves to kill off eight opportunities like they did against Toronto Friday.
"We've talked about the penalties that we've had to kill and our killers have done a great job, but there's no reason we have to put ourselves under that kind of pressure and the type of pressure we've put ourselves in the last four or five games," Payne said. "We've got to decrease that for sure."
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Tonight's lineup will remain the same, and that means Keith Tkachuk (upper-body), D.J. King (healthy scratch) and Darryl Sydor (healthy scratch) are out.
Paul Kariya-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Alex Steen-Jay McClement-B.J. Crombeen
Brad Winchester-Brad Boyes-Cam Janssen
The D-pairings will also stay the same:
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson
Carlo Colaiacovo-Mike Weaver
Chris Mason, who earned his second shutout of the season and 20th of his career, stopped 30 shots in Friday's win. He'll start again tonight.
"I thought he was extremely solid," Payne said of Mason, who is on call as a reserve for the Canadian Olympic team. "Not just the saves he made but the saves he didn't have to make based on his control of the puck. It certainly looked like a performance we can take into tonight."
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The Capitals are enjoying a banner season thus far under head coach Bruce Boudreau, who took a similar route to get behind an NHL bench as Blues coach Davis Payne.
Both are products of the American Hockey League, and Boudreau endorses the Blues' choice of bringing up one of their own to replace Andy Murray.
"I was saying last night that I think it's a really good thing that the coaches that have been with the minor league affiliate get a chance," Boudreau said. "They know the players better than anybody coming in. I'm not sure a reputation as a coach is a real good one in the middle of the season. The people that know the players the best are the guys on the farm because they hear all the stories on whether it's good or bad going on. They can come in and usually you have a different relationship if you're the minor league coach as an NHL coach.
"I think it's a good thing that he came in here and he's done a great job. Andy Murray's a tremendous friend of mine and I hate to see him gone. It's a good thing to hire from within."
The stop in St. Louis is Boudreau's last of the NHL venues as a head coach. He was last here as a player with the Chicago Blackhawks when the Blues played at The Arena.
"I used to love playing here," Boudreau said. "I played in the old building. It's the first time I've ever been here and it's beautiful. The other building always had a good atmosphere and they had great teams.
"I remember the one time I played for Chicago and got on for one shift, and Denis Savard pulled me off after four seconds of my shift and that was it for the game. That was a memory, I don't know why I always thought of that one."
The Capitals coach took in Friday's Blues victory over Toronto and was impressed.
"They're very good," he said. "I was impressed with Chris Mason. He looked square to the puck all the time. He was in total control. Their young players that you read a lot about are really good as well. They play with a lot of energy. We played them last year one time and I was really impressed by their work ethic. I think they had eight players out of their lineup at one time, so I think we wore them down at the end, but I don't think that'll be a situation that would happen today."
Washington has dropped two in a row (0-1-1) after winning an amazing 14 games in a row and 17 of 18.
It was a fun ride but one the Caps knew would end sometime.
"It was good. It was the result of all-around good play and a lot of things coming together," Capitals forward Mike Knuble said. "Great goaltending, penalty killing was great, power play was clicking, all that stuff.
"We're still scoring the goals, but we're giving up too many right now. It's stuff you can focus on. It was a good run, but we knew it had to end at some point."
The Caps will throw out a line resembling this:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Mike Knuble
Brooks Laich-Brendan Morrison-Alexander Semin
Tomas Fleischmann-Dave Steckel-Eric Fehr
Quintin Laing-Boyd Gordon-Matt Bradley
John Carlson was recalled from AHL Hershey and will play tonight.
The D-pairings will feature:
Jeff Schultz-Mike Green
Karl Alzner-Brian Pothier
Shaone Morrisonn-John Carlson
Jose Theodore will get the start in goal.