52 Pick-Up – The team that ruined the summer of 2010 for the Capitals supplied the opposition for the final regular season game of calendar 2010.
The Capitals managed a single goal in each of the final three games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Montreal Canadiens last April. Washington matched that total on Tuesday in a 3-0 win over the Habs in the first meeting between the two clubs this season.
Washington rode first period goals from Jay Beagle and Mike Green and a 25-save performance from Semyon Varlamov to its second straight win and its fourth in the last five games.
Since ending its eight-game winless streak, Washington has collected nine of a possible 10 points (4-0-1) in its last five games. Tuesday’s triumph over the Habs pushes the Caps back into the top spot in the Southeast Division standings, two points ahead of Tampa Bay and five in front of Atlanta.
The victory was Washington’s 52nd in 81 regular season games (52-17-12) during calendar 2010.
Now, the Caps can direct their attention to Saturday’s Winter Classic against the Penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
“We can’t get too high now,” cautions Caps defenseman Mike Green. “We have to feel like we have over the last week where we keep building and building and building. We haven’t accomplished anything yet. There’s still a lot to learn. But at least we get to play a great event like we do on Saturday. It will be exciting.”
The Little Things – Beagle used his speed to get behind the Montreal net and his strength to collect the puck and curl out to the front of the net with it late in the first period. Then he roofed a backhander to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.
“I throw a lot of backhand,” says Beagle, “but I don’t think [top] shelf like that. I knew that [Montreal goaltender Carey] Price was a big goalie and I just wanted to put it on net and try to get it up.”
Caps winger Matt Hendricks picked up a secondary assist on the play, even though he was comfortably seated on the Washington bench by the time the red light went on. Hendricks skated the puck out of the Caps’ end to the red line, noticed the impending line change, waited, waited, and then perfectly timed and placed his dump-in to coincide with Beagle gaining the zone with speed.
With a little help from linemate Eric Fehr, Beagle did the rest.
“Hendy made the smartest dump,” says Beagle. “He waited, waited and waited and he knew his linemates were changing. He threw it in the corner that I was heading for. It all started with Hendy. That dump was a really smart play.”
That’s as good a secondary assist as you’ll see, and it wasn’t accompanied by a “plus-1.”
The assist was Hendricks’ seventh of the season, matching his career high recorded in 2009-10 with Colorado.
Tighten Up – Washington has allowed just a dozen goals in its last seven games. Since allowing four or more goals in three straight mid-November games, the Caps have allowed three or fewer in 15 of their last 17 and have allowed two or fewer in 10 of those 17 games.
A big part of the Caps’ recent defensive strengths has been the team’s penalty killing outfit. Washington has killed 16 straight penalties and has successfully snuffed 22 of 23 (95.7%) in its last six games.
Washington has surrendered multiple goals in just one of its last 17 periods.
No. 2 For No. 1 – Varlamov was excellent early in recording his second shutout of the season and the fourth of his NHL career. Montreal fired the game’s first six shots, and the 22-year-old Russian netminder kept the Habs from getting an early jump on Washington.
Tonight’s whitewash was the third for Washington this season, matching its highest total in any campaign since it had four in 2002-03.
Varlamov recorded his first NHL win against the Canadiens in Montreal on Dec. 13, 2008 and he picked up his 25th career win over the Habs tonight at Verizon Center.
For his NHL career, Varlamov is 3-0 with a 1.30 GAA and a .951 save pct. against the Canadiens.
Double Nickel Back – When Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz went down with a broken thumb in the first period of a Dec. 6 game against the Maple Leafs, the team announced he’d be lost for 4-6 weeks.
Tonight, some 22 days after the injury, Schultz returned to the lineup.
The Caps were 3-4-2 in his absence, and they were outscored 21-7 in the first 17 periods after Schultz went down.
Schultz logged 13:16 (including 2:07 of shorthanded ice time) and blocked a pair of shots in his return on Tuesday.
Two To Go – Montreal was the last Eastern Conference team the Caps had not faced this season. Washington has defeated every Eastern Conference club with the exception of Pittsburgh and Florida. Those two teams are two of the Capitals’ next three opponents.
The Bears got three goals in the first period and three more in the second – and contributions from up and down the roster – on their way to a 6-1 win over the Baby Sens.
Kyle Greentree scored twice (his 12th and 13th goals of the season) and Sean Collins (first), Dmitry Kugryshev (third), Nikita Kashirsky (first) and Zach Miskovic (fourth) scored for the Bears. All six Hershey goals came at even strength.
Goaltender Dany Sabourin stopped 21 of the 22 shots he faced to pull even at 8-8 on the season.
With the win, the Bears nudged their way past Charlotte and into third place in the AHL’s East Division standings. Hershey is nine points behind front-running Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and three points back of second-place Norfolk in the East.
By The Numbers – Green skated 10:06 in the game’s first period, 5:45 of which was special teams time … Green and Fehr tied for the team lead with six shots on goal each … John Erskine paced the Caps with four blocked shots … Montreal’s Scott Gomez took an “ofer” in the face-off circle, going 0-for-12 on the night. The Habs won just 31% of their draws on the evening, meaning the Caps won 69% of theirs … Nicklas Backstrom (10-for-12, 83%) and David Steckel (15-for-22, 68%) were both dominant on the draw for Washington … Steckel also paced the Caps with four hits.
1 - 0 WSH
2 - 0 WSH
3 - 0 WSH
Too many men/ice - bench
Hi stick - double minor