By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- If the Blues want to get back on the ball and have their attention focused in the right direction, there should be no other team than tonight's opponent that will get the Blues' radar on high alert.
The Washington Capitals, 9-0-2 their past 11 games, come in with a 29-9-6 overall mark and make their only visit to Scottrade Center (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
The Blues (23-17-5) are coming off a discouraging 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators, a game in which was there to be had, but the Blues, who had won their previous two games, lost it in the third period after winning back-to-back games at San Jose and Anaheim.
But it seems that when the Blues get matched against some of the best teams in the NHL, they tend to bring their best game.
"If you look at the games we've played well against over this last stretch, it's against teams you know you have to play well against or you're not going to stand a chance," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "Obviously tonight, we know who these guys are, so hopefully that's the case. I think that's been a little bit of our problem, too, those games against teams you maybe don't know as well like Ottawa, a team like Carolina that comes in here ... you don't want to say you take them lightly but you're not as kind of on as when you play a team like Chicago or San Jose or someone we know so well."
"They're playing the best of any team in the league right now," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Capitals. "To think we're going to come in here and outscore them is unrealistic, but our 'A' game, for two of the last three games, we've had our 'A' game and our 'A' game can beat anybody. That's our attitude. If we can play our 'A' game, it's a lot different than Pittsburgh's or Washington's or anybody else's. Our 'A' game has got a strong dynamic and if we can play that way, we can beat anybody."
The Capitals are coming off a run-and-gun 8-7 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.
"It sure is fun to watch," Bouwmeester said with a grin. "Coaches are having nightmares. Sometimes you like those if you're on the right side of things. Both of those teams have a lot of skill and a lot of firepower. If you let them run, that's what happens."
The Capitals are averaging 4.36 goals per game during their 11-game point streak while only allowing 1.91.
"And they've been beating really good teams handily," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think even that game against Pittsburgh the other day, it was a wild game and that's what you have to expect out of them. No lead for us is going to be safe against them especially if we're not playing the right way. They're a team that can score two, three goals in a matter of minutes. Every shift is going to be focused on and fun. These are games where we don't see this team too often, but these games grab your attention and focused to play their best game."
Hitchcock called the Caps-Pens game "fun, as long as it's on TV and you're not standing behind the bench. It's a little bit like a guy jumping off a 10-story building. So far, so good and then oops, I might hit the ground. That's what it felt like."
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The Blues will turn back to Jake Allen in goal after Carter Hutton started the past three games.
Allen has been pulled in three of his past five starts, including a 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings last Thursday.
"I think we've made the conscious decision to go with him," Hitchcock said of Allen. "He needed a break mentally and physically. We needed to get some things adjusted and like any other young guy, you get a chance to work on those things and you've just got to live with. So regardless of what happens, we just live with it. We really think he's going to take some steps in the right direction. That's part of making the decision to go with a young guys, give him the ball and let him run with it.
"There's just some things technically that we want to see him get a little bit better at and we saw those in the last two practices," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If we didn't see that, quite frankly, we wouldn't have played him. We wouldn't put him out there until we see those things. But we saw them and I think our confidence that they're going to really impact the way he plays and get back to where he was in the first 20 games, we think he's capable of doing that."
The Blues will do everything in their power to help Allen gain his confidence back.
"The thing we did well for Carter over the weekend was we did a tremendous job of getting pucks out of our zone quickly," Shattenkirk said. "I think that helps any goalie when you're not seeing 1) Grade A chances, and 2) we're making possession plays out of our zone and we're keeping it out of there quickly. I think this is a team that we're facing that produces a lot of offense and they're going to produce a lot of scoring chances. We're going to have to be on top of our game. They're not chances that Jake just has to worry about, they're chances that every goalie in the league has problems with. We have to make sure we're ready for those because they're dynamic offensively, but if we can hold them pretty tight, they're going to give us a bunch on the other end."
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The Blues want to get right wing Vladimir Tarasenko going.
Tarasenko, who is still on a point per game clip with 45 in 45 games, hasn't scored the past five games, the second-longest stretch of the season (he had gone seven games earlier this season). Hitchcock will implement Dmitrij Jaskin on the left wing with Jori Lehtera.
"We need to be consistently a better checking team and create more space for ourselves in zone," Hitchcock said. "Our feeling in playing Jaskin is in four of the last five games he's played awful well and he's created space for whoever he plays with. We had this line together in the last Washington game (a 4-3 loss on Nov. 23) and it was a very good line for us, probably our best line. When we started watching the tape, it just tweaked us in saying, 'We need the line that 'Vladi' plays on to be a better line for us and this gives it an opportunity to have a little bit different type of onset where it can maybe control the puck a little bit more in the offensive zone rather than just be a rush-attack line.
"Ninety-one, quite frankly is getting checked to death and other people are responsible for creating the space for him. He's trying to play against four guys right now and we need more participants in order to help him."
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The Blues have shuffled their defensive deck again, putting Bouwmeester back with Alex Pietrangelo, moving Carl Gunnarsson, who's missed seven games (six because of a lower-body injury and the last one as a healthy scratch) back in and taking Joel Edmundson out for the first time in 21 games.
"Looking back on 'Petro,' he's gone from minus-12 to minus-4," Hitchcock said. "So he's been plus-8, which is very significant, so we're not afraid to go back on that. We just feel like ... we're not looking at just this game, we're looking at the next four games before the break and we feel like we're going to have defined matchups in order to be successful. We've got some really significant opponents coming up and we need some great matchups and we feel like 19 and 27 are going to have to carry the ball."
And from that perspective, looking for more consistency.
"That's kind of been the theme here for a while is to be more consistent," Bouwmeester said. "You go back, you had a good finish to that road trip and come back and those games, for whatever reason, sometimes they're hard where you have a lapse or whatever. We still had a chance to win the game the other night, but it just got away from us. Now we try to grab that momentum back. It's little steps right now. The team that's coming in here, they're a real good team. You've got to have your best game against them no matter what. Focus on that, hopefully have everyone on the same page and away you go."
Edmundson has played the past 20 games and gets to sit back and hit the proverbial reset button.
"More alert," Hitchcock said. "Young guy on the learning curve and we just ... we need him to be a little more alert, so hopefully this is like anything else with these guys, it's a reset and get right back in it and get going again."
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Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie returns for the second time after being traded in the summer of 2015.
Oshie, whose dad Tim is on the trip for the Capitals' annual dad's trip, spent the evening Wednesday with former teammates Barret Jackman, Ryan Reaves, Patrik Berglund and Jaden Schwartz.
"It's little weird still," said Oshie, who has 15 goals and 13 assists in 36 games. "It's been a while, but always great coming back and seeing good friends. I've got a lot of good friends over there. I had some dinner with them last night and go out there and battle them tonight.
"I was over at Jax's house last night. A couple of the boys come over, 'Revo,' 'Shwizz' and 'Bergy.'
"... I imagine it will always be a little awkward being on this side, but after you get that first one out of the way, you settle down a little bit and it's fun to come back."
Oshie, who was traded for Troy Brouwer and Pheonix Copley, said he'll make sure he doesn't get too close to Reaves.
"I'm going to steer clear of Revo," Oshie joked. "You can bet a lot of money on that."
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Center Paul Stastny has seven points (four goals, three assists) the past seven games.
Right wing Alexander Steen has nine points (three goals, six assists) the past eight games.
Berglund has 10 goals in 15 games after starting the season with one in 30.
Left wing Scottie Upshall returns after being a healthy scratch the past three games, and Nail Yakupov will be scratched for the first time in seven.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen
Robby Fabbri-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Dmitrij Jaskin-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Robert Bortuzzo-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Nail Yakupov and Joel Edmundson. The Blues report no injuries.
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The Capitals' projected lineup:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Andre Burakovsky
Daniel Winnik-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-Dmitry Orlov
Taylor Chorney-Nate Schmidt
Braden Holtby will start in goal; Philipp Grubauer will be the backup.
The Capitals report no healthy scratches. John Carlson (lower body) is day-to-day.