The Washington Capitals certainly washed some of the bad taste out of their mouths from last April tonight by shutting out the Montreal Canadiens by a final score of 3-0. With the victory, the Caps are guaranteed to keep pace with the Lightning in the race for the Southeast Division. Semyon Varlamov made 25 stops for his second shutout this season.
The Caps again let their opponents rush out to a fast start when they took back-to-back penalties within the first five minutes of the game. The Canadiens generated excellent power play pressure, but Semyon Varlamov was excellent in keeping the visitors off the board. After the early pressure by Montreal, the teams switched roles, and it was the Caps' turn to dominate offensively. Washington was able to create strong opportunities both at even strength and on the power play, but were thwarted by Carey Price several times, often spectacularly. Finally, a little over 16 minutes into the period, Jay Beagle scored what could be the goal of the year when he pivoted out from behind the Montreal cage and ripped a backhander top corner on Price with his back turned to the goal to give the Caps a 1-0 advantage. The Capitals used that momentum to continue to pressure Price and the Canadiens, and were rewarded again when Mike Green cashed a nice pass from Nicklas Backstrom with only 22 seconds left on the clock, and the Caps headed to the dressing room with a 2-0 cushion. In the second, the Caps had several opportunities to put the game out of reach with extended power play time, but again were thwarted by Price in Montreal's cage. The Canadiens also counterattacked admirably with several rushes up ice, but Varlamov was again up to the task. The game began to lose it's pace as the Capitals went into lockdown mode and the Habs became more passive, and the 2nd period concluded with a 2-0 Caps lead. In the third, much of the same passive hockey was played for about the first 10 minutes, but the Habs turned up the heat with successive power plays about halfway through the period and were buzzing the Caps end consistently. Once again, however, Semyon Varlamov was excellent and made several good saves to keep the Habs off the board. Alex Ovechkin wrapped up the scoring with an empty-netter, his 14th, at 19:26, and the Caps gained critical momentum heading into this weekend's primetime showcase in the Steel City.
Semyon Varlamov is running with the goalie job. Though his team came out flat, Varly did not, and won the game for his team in the first 7 minutes with his play. His keeping the Habs off the board early enabled the Caps to generate momentum and not allow that killer early goal that has been an unfortunate trademark of this team recently. Varly has earned the start he will receive in the Winter Classic.
A great game for Karl Alzner. Number 27 was blocking shots all night, using his size well to cut off skating lanes, and finished his checks admirably. He also earned an assist on Ovie's late tally with a nice chip up the boards. In fact, Karl is getting power play time, something he hasn't come near in his first year and a half in DC.
Nick Backstrom needs to either shoot more or pass more on the PP, which fired blanks again tonight. 19 has this bad habit of dancing around the top of the circles on the man advantage, and it doesn't really do anything besides make every player on the ice yell at him to do something. He'll figure it out, but it is frustrating to watch such a key component of the power play struggle with the man advantage.
Caps have tomorrow off before practicing Thursday and then jetting to Pittsburgh for Saturday's Winter Classic showdown with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. The weather looks like it won't cooperate, but more on that tomorrow. For now, enjoy a nice win, Caps fans, and get ready for this weekend.
Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!