Beninati: Clean and Green

Beninati: Clean and Green
December 29, 2010, 3:45 am
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010 10:34 p.m.

By Joe Beninati
Capitals Play-by-Play

For a couple of weeks now we have been hearing about how the Caps are trying to assemble the type of style and strategy that will serve them best by the time the playoffs roll around in April. A game like tonight gives us a glimpse of what it should look like.

The Caps were determined to make Montreal have to work hard to bring the puck in the offensive zone and they succeeded. There were very few odd-man rushes allowed, something upon which the Canadiens smaller, shiftier forwards thrive.

Semyon Varlamov was challenging shooters beautifully in the first five minutes of the game. An early power-play chance fueled the Habs offense, but they ran into the Russian netminder on a night when it looked like he was going to square up to everythingwhich he did.

The home team gave him a lead to protect late in the opening period. Jay Beagle scored a brilliant goal with a spinning backhand delivery that stumped Montreals stud netminder Carey Price. Beagle is known more for his hard work and scrappy play along the boards, but on this occasion he made a playmakers move that could have made Alex Ovechkin blush.

Three minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom, with amazing vision, spotted Mike Green slicing in from his point position and delivered a perfect pass for the defender to jam past Price. Its great to see Mike jumping up into the play and using good judgment. He helps make Washington so difficult to defend when he picks his spots well.

The second period was a stalemate with both teams digging in defensively and both goalies sharpening their skills. Price is not in a good groove right now, hes lost six of his last eight decisions, but its easy to see why he practically carried Montreal to a sizzling start this season.

Varlamov was only going to get stronger as the night when along, and his teammates were playing a very clean and consistent defense in front of him.

The only knock on the night would be that the Washington power play was not able to advance the lead despite numerous man-advantages. All told the Caps would finish the evening 0-for-8 a man-up, which is something that needs to be rectified.

The third period was more close-to-the-vest hockey, which comes by design after a team grabs the lead, and especially by two goals. The Canadiens quick-skating attack was kept to the outside and forced to play a dump-n-chase game which is not the strength of a team that features small, creative forwards like Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, and Scott Gomez.

The return of Jeff Shultz to the line-up was a welcome addition. After missing the last nine games, he played with a calm steadiness that blended nicely with what is trying to accomplish on defense.

Alex Ovechkin finished off the Canadiens with an open-net goal in the final minute to bring the count to 3-0. He had two other quality scoring chances in the opening frame, and was skating with a good burst tonight.

All the attention now falls on the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, New Years Day in Pittsburgh. It will be a showdown of epic proportion. Lets hope Mother Nature lets the boys play on time and in fair conditions. This is one you wont want to miss.