ST. LOUIS – The Washington Capitals discovered Jaroslav Halak is not perfect, after all.
Semyon Varlamov made 37 saves for his fourth straight win since recovering from a groin injury and the Capitals got back at the goalie who knocked them out of the playoffs last spring with a 4-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night.
“It’s always good,” forward Nicklas Backstrom said. “I mean, he destroyed our plans.”
Backstrom had two goals, one of them into an empty net, and an assist to help NHL-leading Washington push its points total to 38. Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon also scored for the Capitals.
They had been 0-7-1 in St. Louis since their last victory on Oct. 26, 1996, when Jason Allison scored twice against Grant Fuhr in a 6-4 final. Coach Bruce Boudreau said he brought that up last season and the Capitals lost in a shootout.
“So, I said I’m never bringing that up again,” Boudreau said. “Not that I’m superstitious or anything.”
Boudreau said he never mentioned Halak’s name to players, either.
“We didn’t have it on the board,” the coach said. “We didn’t care who was in the net. Last year was last year and we’re just looking forward to hopefully the rest of this year and see where it leads.”
The Capitals got a goal in each period against Halak, who bedevilled them during heavy underdog Montreal’s first-round upset of the overall No. 1 seed last spring. Halak allowed one goal in each of the final three games of the series, facing a total of 131 shots.
Halak, who got a four-year contract with St. Louis after a summer trade, is 2-6-1 in his last nine starts. His misplay gave the Capitals a two-goal lead.
“They capitalized on a few chances,” forward David Backes said. “I don’t know if they really earned their goals.”
The Blues were the last NHL team to lose in regulation at home, but have lost consecutive games in a four-day span to fall to 8-2-1. Their perfect 7-0 start against Eastern Conference opponents also ended, and they’ve dropped four in a row overall.
St. Louis is 0-for-16 on the power play the last five games and struggled against the Capitals’ pressure.
“We play them about once every century so I couldn’t tell if they usually do that,” Backes said. “I don’t know if they saw something they wanted to exploit or that’s the way they’re always playing, but it was pretty effective. They kept us from setting up in the zone most of the game.”
The Capitals won their fourth straight overall without much from big guns Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, with each player getting an assist. Backstrom’s 10th goal on a rebound shot early in the third period put Washington up 3-1 and he added an empty-net goal in the final minute.
Varlamov has allowed five goals on 115 shots during his four-game streak, including a shutout over the Lightning.
“I don’t concentrate on the winning streak,” the 22-year-old goalie said through an interpreter. “I’ve been working as hard as I can and that’s what I’ve been doing since I got back.”
Laich had an easy tap-in from the side of the net after Backstrom’s wrist shot deflected off two Blues’ sticks on a power play midway through the first period.
The Capitals went ahead 2-0 midway through the second on Halak’s mistake. Gordon flipped the puck from the side of the net and Halak took a swipe at it with his glove but only got a piece of the puck, deflecting it off defenceman Eric Brewer, and it rebounded into the net.
“Sometimes you just throw pucks at the net,” Boyd said. “Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t.”
Alex Steen’s fifth goal of the season and only second point in eight games cut the deficit to one with 31.4 seconds to go in the second. Steen floated a wrist shot from the side board and it sailed through traffic.
NOTES: The Blues had won 12 in a row against the Eastern Conference dating to last January. … The Caps scratched D Scott Hannan, acquired Wednesday from the Avalanche. … Laich has two goals and an assist in the last four games. … The Caps are among three teams that have never shut out the Blues, over 85 games. The others are Tampa Bay (28 games) and Ottawa (24). … The Blues outscored the Capitals 29-13during the elongated eight-game winning streak.