January 31, 2015

Excellent goaltending has already helped the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues secure playoff berths.

The Blues, though, are expected to give Brian Elliott the day off.

While Braden Holtby's status unknown, the Capitals won't have to deal with the NHL's hottest goaltender Saturday night when it attempts to win the Presidents' Trophy.

The favorite for this season's Vezina Trophy and a potential Hart Trophy finalist, Holtby is 45-9-4 with a 2.21 goals-against average after making 22 saves in Friday's 1-0 overtime win at New Jersey. He's been even better at home, going 24-3-1 with a 2.07 GAA.

Holtby is a big reason why the Capitals (53-15-5) only need one point against St. Louis to secure their first Presidents' Trophy since 2009-10 and the top overall seed in the playoffs. However, they would also clinch it if Dallas loses at San Jose earlier in the day.

With nine games remaining, coach Barry Trotz isn't worried about Washington transitioning to the playoffs.

"The blessing is where we are so we can work on things and try things. The curse is where we are," he said. "I trust the group understands how important it is to ramp our game up so there are no surprises (when the playoffs start)."

The Capitals' position in the standings affords them the luxury of resting Holtby in favor of backup Philipp Grubauer, who is 8-6-1 with a 2.19 GAA in 19 games. Holtby, though, has stopped 74 of 76 shots while winning both of his meetings with the Blues.

St. Louis, tied with the Stars for first place in the West, will reportedly rest Elliott after his 15 saves in Friday's 4-0 win over Vancouver assured the club its fifth straight playoff appearance. He's made 71 saves while posting three straight shutouts, and he's got a 1.58 GAA and .944 save percentage while winning all eight decisions in his last nine starts.

"I think the guys are feeling it," Elliott said. "I'm kind of the beneficiary on the back end with how they're playing.

"We still have work to do and it's just the first step in the mountain climb here."

Jake Allen is hoping to benefit from that since he's got a 5.15 GAA while splitting two decisions over his last three starts - getting pulled once. This would be his first matchup with the Capitals, who are second in the NHL with 3.12 goals per game.

The Blues, though, are averaging 3.64 during a 9-2-0 stretch, with Robby Fabbri totaling 11 points after finding the net in each of the last two games. His 18 goals are the most by a St. Louis rookie since Patrik Berglund had 21 in 2008-09.

Vladimir Tarasenko leads the Blues with 34 goals, but he's scored only once over the past six games. He had a goal and assist in a 4-3 win at Washington on Feb. 1, 2015.

Alex Ovechkin had two goals and one assist in that meeting, giving him seven and 10 in 11 all-time. He leads the league with 43 goals but has been held to three over the past 13 games.

It's unclear if T.J. Oshie will be back after missing one game with the flu. The right wing spent his first seven seasons with the Blues before being traded to Washington last summer.

"I don't know. I haven't seen him. I haven't talked to him. We'll see where he is (Saturday)," Trotz said of Oshie's availability.

These teams conclude the regular season in St. Louis on April 9.

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