- The Caps congratulate Varlamov after Tuesday night's win. (Photo: Associated Press)
Thankfully for the Washington Capitals and their fans, Tuesday night's 3-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens -- the final game of a month that has been, to put it mildly, up-and-down -- offered neither drama nor controversy; nothing, in short, that would appeal to the microscopic lens of HBO's cameras.
The task was the usual one: show up, play well, win. Simple in form, complex in function, but Tuesday night, the Capitals executed their part flawlessly.
It started with goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who turned aside all 25 shots Montreal faced, including an early flurry when the score was still 0-0 and Montreal received two successive power play chances.
"He played great," defenseman Scott Hannan said. "He made stops when he needed to. When we gave up opportunities, which is going to happen in any game, he was right there."
"There were shots that we couldn't block," said defenseman Mike Green. "and he was playing aggressive to make sure he made the save. When he plays like that, he's an outstanding goaltender."
Making the task slightly easier for the Capitals defense was another sterling performance from Green and the return of Jeff Schultz, who played 13:16 22 days after breaking his thumb December 6 against Toronto. " The Big Rig? We missed him," Green said of Schultz. "He's so consistent. He hasn't played in however many games and he comes back and he's solid just like he always is. You have to admire that."
"We didn't play him as much as we normally would and we played him on the right," said head coach Bruce Boudreau, who paired Schultz alongside John Erskine with Green and Hannan forging a dependable defensive partnership. "But he's got such a good stick and is so good positionally that it worked out well."
And lest we forget, another one of the Hershey boys came through as well, with Jay Beagle's exquisite backhanded goal proving to be the winner and giving Boudreau a tough task ahead of the most anticipated regular season game, in possibly the franchise's history.
The head coach only has room for 18 players and 2 goalies on the bench at Heinz Field, just as he would for any regular season game (which, after all, the New Year's Day gala is). With several regulars missing from Tuesday's lineup, like Tom Poti, Marcus Johansson, and Mathieu Perreault, it's difficult to envy Boudreau as he decides who will sit shoulder-to-shoulder on that bench, and who will watch from the press box high above the converted football field.
"There's a lot of guys trying to make their case," Boudreau said, "and I am trying to not think about playing somebody just because he is who he is. I am just going to put the best lineup that there is to win that night."
Beagle might have found himself a place in that lineup, scoring his second goal of the season in his seventh game since being called up from Hershey December 15. "There's a guy," Boudreau said, "who is making a great case to stay here. It's his fourth year professionally (but his first in the NHL), and his work ethic is second to none."
The Capitals ended the month 5-6-3, their first sub-.500 record for a month since November 2008. However, they have rebounded well since that tortuous eight-game losing streak documented in such painful detail on HBO's "Road to the Winter Classic" reality series, winning four of their last five to close out the year 2010 (that thrilling shootout loss to Pittsburgh December 23 being the only blemish).
So it is on to Pittsburgh for the New Year's Day circus. "I just want to get it over with and I hope it doesn't rain," said Bruce Boudreau, a reference to the foreboding weather forecast that threatens to move the event to late Saturday or early Sunday. "I just hope it's not too chilly," rejoined Hannan.
No matter when or in what conditions the game is played, the Capitals will no doubt just want to take something from it and move on to a challenging home game January 4 against Tampa Bay, their chief competition for the Southeast Division at the moment. December might have been a bad month, but in the end, it was just that: a month. And as the Caps begin to get acclimated to the outdoors, they also know that much sterner challenges than an eight-game losing streak in December are still ahead.
My Three Stars
Semyon Varlamov-25 saves to record his second shutout of the season.
Mike Green-The signature moment of the game was his unsavable one-timer for Washington's second goal.
Jay Beagle-Had just one shot in the game, but boy, did he make it count. Also won seven of the 11 face-offs he took.