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Postgame Recap/Notebook: Avalanche 5, Caps 1

October 13, 2013

Ex-Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov bit the hand that once fed him on Saturday, stopping 40 of 41 shots he faced to help send his former Washington teammates to their third straight setback, a 5-1 defeat to the Colorado Avalanche.


“I think it’s so special for the goalie to beat the old team,” notes Varlamov, who made his first appearance against the Caps since Washington traded him to Colorado on July 1, 2011. “I am excited today. We win three games on the road, we get our points and right we are pretty happy.”


After scoring eight goals in their first two games of the season, the Caps have managed just five goals in their last three games, all losses.


“It didn’t look like we had any passion tonight,” fumes Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “We didn’t get the crowd into it. We made it a boring atmosphere for the fans that were here and as a result we were flat.”


The Avs drew first blood. Alex Tanguay drove the left wing side and threaded a pass for Gabriel Landeskog, who was heading for the net. The puck instead glanced off Caps defenseman John Carlson and went thru Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth to give Colorado a 1-0 advantage at 6:42 of the first frame.


Washington blueliner Mike Green incurred the line penalty of the period, going off for hi-sticking at 12:17. The Caps killed the penalty without incident, but the Avs doubled their advantage just five seconds later. Matt Duchene blazed down the right wing side, put a move on Caps defenseman Karl Alzner and lifted a shot that beat Neuvirth high to the short side at 14:22.


The Caps went to first intermission down 2-0. They’ve now been outscored by a combined total of 8-3 in the first 20 minutes of their five games this season.


The Capitals were all over the Avs in the Colorado end for the entirety of the second period, but ended up falling a goal deeper in the hole for their efforts. Washington outshot Colorado 19-7 in the second period, and the Caps held a lopsided 32-14 advantage in shots attempted in the second.


Unfortunately for Washington, it made one crucial mistake late in the frame, and that allowed the Avs to add to their advantage.


Just past the 16-minute mark of the middle period, the Caps were whistled for having too many men on the ice.  With Washington trying to gain possession of the puck along the wall in front of its own bench, someone hopped onto the ice, and then hopped back off. But the damage had been done.


Instead of continuing to pepper Varlamov with shots, the Caps were forced to kill just their second penalty of the night. The task proved to be too much. With less than 30 seconds remaining on the minor penalty – and at a point in the game where the next goal figured to loom large for whichever team scored it – the Avs cashed in on the power play.


Paul Stastny fed a perfect pass to the front of the net where rookie Nathan MacKinnon – the first overall choice in the 2013 NHL Draft – wasted no time in ripping it past Neuvirth for a 3-0 Colorado lead.


“The second period, it’s a shame,” rues Caps coach Adam Oates. “We came out down in the period and we played our best period of the season. It was the only mistake we made all period; we had too many men. That’s a mental mistake.”


Washington finally got its first power play chance of the night with seconds remaining in the second, but rather than use that opportunity to chip away at its deficit, the Caps dug the ditch deeper.


Tanguay threw a shot toward the Washington goal from down along the goal line, and it found its way through Neuvirth, the second short-side strike for the Avs on the night.


Washington’s best players on this night were its bottom six forwards, and the Caps’ third line finally solved Varlamov just 44 seconds after Tanguay’s second tally of the night. Joel Ward pushed the puck down the wall in the Colorado end, and Jason Chimera collected it. Chimera authored a perfect pass to Eric Fehr in front, and the Caps’ center scored his first of the season.


Even that wee bit of prosperity couldn’t be savored for long. Washington turned the puck over in neutral ice, and MacKinnon and his linemates sprinted right back at the Caps. MacKinnon fed P.A. Parenteau who went cross-ice to Jamie McGinn, and McGinn dented Neuvirth for the fifth time in the game.


McGinn’s goal came just 21 seconds after Fehr scored Washington’s lone goal of the night.


Fehr thought the Caps didn’t work hard enough for second chance opportunities on Varlamov in Saturday’s game.


“He played really well,” Fehr says of Varlamov. “He made all the first saves. But we’ve got to credit their [defense]. They did a great job on second chances; I don’t remember too many rebound opportunities that we got. I think any goalie will tell you that it’s easy to play when you don’t have to worry about rebounds. We’ve got to do a better job of getting to the net. We’ve just got to find a way to battle a little bit harder.”


Brouwer faulted Washington’s effort.


“It’s looking at yourself and wanting to win,” says Brouwer. “It’s about wanting to work hard, wanting to help your teammates out and wanting to win. That’s all it comes down to. Our talent level is there. Our effort is not.”


Saturday’s game marked the first time Neuvirth had surrendered as many as five goals in a game since he allowed five on just 20 shots in a 5-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center on March 2, 2012.


Saturday’s story was all about Varlamov, Neuvirth’s old netminding partner in Hershey and Washington.


“I got too excited today to play against my old team, against Washington,” says Varlamov. “It’s a lot of glamorous to play here. That was my first game since I left Washington. That’s why I think I am too nervous. In the warm-up, my legs were shaking. The whole first period my legs were shaking, but after first period, I feel so much better.”


The win runs Colorado’s record to a perfect 5-0 on the season. The Avalanche has outscored its opposition by a combined total of 18-4 in those five contests.


Netminding Duel – Varlamov and Neuvirth were both drafted by the Caps in the early rounds of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver.


Varlamov won this one, and it wasn’t very close.


Tonight’s duel of Capitals-drafted goaltenders is the first of its kind since Feb. 12, 2003. On that night, Washington’s Olie Kolzig (drafted in first round, 19th overall in 1989 NHL Entry Draft) faced Thrashers goaltender Byron Dafoe (drafted in second round, 35th overall in ’89).


Washington got to Dafoe for five goals on 13 shots in the first period and coasted to a 5-1 win.


Hall of Fame Game – Tonight’s game pitted a pair of Hall of Famers (Oates and Colorado bench boss Patrick Roy) as head coaches of their respective NHL clubs for the first time since Jan. 13, 2009. In that game more than four years ago, the Wayne Gretzky-led Phoenix Coyotes took on the Jacques Lemaire-coached Minnesota Wild.


Milestone Moment – Roy recorded a memorable milestone in a game here on F St. against the Capitals 13 years ago this month. Much like the situation in tonight’s game, the Avs came to town with four wins and no regulation losses (4-0-1-0) while Washington had amassed just two points in its first five games (0-3-2-0) as they hooked up in an Oct. 17, 2000 game.


The Avs took a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Alex Tanguay and Milan Hejduk, but Washington replied with two of its own in the second period – from Ulf Dahlen and Peter Bondra – to send the game into the third period all even at 2-2.


With help from Oates, Bondra scored his second of the night on a power play just 25 seconds into the third to gave the Caps their first lead of the night at 3-2. But Avs center Joe Sakic answered with a power play goal of his own three minutes later, and that was all the scoring for the game’s first 60 minutes.


At 1:41 of the extra session, Washington winger Richard Zednik received a five-minute major for cross-checking Avs’ defenseman Adam Foote; Zednik also received a game misconduct. Fifty-six seconds later, Colorado center Peter Forsberg tipped a Ray Bourque point shot past Caps goalie Olie Kolzig to give the Avs a 4-3 win, the 448th of Roy’s career.


That win put Roy one ahead of the legendary Terry Sawchuk for the top spot on the NHL’s all-time list. Roy finished his NHL career with 551 wins; he has of course since been surpassed by New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur (669) as the league’s all-time winningest netminder.


Several men involved in that game are involved with either the Caps or the Avs these days. Oates is obviously Washington’s head coach and Calle Johansson (a Caps defenseman at the time) and Kolzig are his assistants.


Roy is obviously Colorado’s head coach. Sakic is now the Avs’ executive vice-president of hockey operations. Foote serves as defensive development consultant for Colorado. Tim Army, a Caps assistant coach from 1997-2002, is now an assistant with the Avalanche. Craig Billington, who was Kolzig’s understudy for that game


District Debut – Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt became the 490th player to don the Capitals’ sweater for an NHL game on Saturday against Colorado. Schmidt is the first of all of those players to spot uniform No. 88 on his back.


Playing alongside Steve Oleksy, Schmidt skated 14:51 on 15 shifts for the night. He had three shots on goal and finished up with a minus-1.


“He handled it real well,” says Oleksy of Schmidt’s debut. “That’s a tough game to jump into. Not a lot of things went our way. It was a fast game.  But I feel he played real well and he handled himself real well. He carried himself like a true professional and that’s a credit to him. We talked a lot throughout the game and he was very positive. He’s going to get a lot better. For a first game, I thought he did very, very well.”


Homecomings – Varlamov returned to the District tonight for the first time since the July 1, 2011 trade that sent him to Colorado.


Army also returned to F St. in an official NHL capacity for the first time since his coaching tenure (1997-02) here. Army later served as head coach for the Caps’ AHL Portland affiliate (2002-05) and also spent several seasons as the head coach of his alma mater, Providence College. He is now in his second season as a Colorado assistant.


Army, known as “Turbo” to the Washington players of that era, generously provided terrific content to during his days as an assistant here. “Army’s Battle Plan” was a regular feature on the sire before all 82 games in those days as he tirelessly filled us in on every upcoming opponent.


It’s great to see him back in the game at the NHL level.


New Life In The Desert – Ex-Caps captain Jeff Halpern signed a one-year contract with the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday. The 37-year-old Halpern is a native of Potomac, Md. spent the first six seasons of his NHL career with Washington and also returned for a second stint with the Caps in 2011-12.


Halpern has played in 907 career regular season NHL games and might have already surpassed the 1,000-game plateau if not for a couple of lengthy lockouts during his career.


Down On The Farm – A week after their season-opener, the AHL Hershey Bears were finally back in action on Saturday night, taking on the Baby Pens in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.


The Bears lost 3-1 to fall to 0-1-1 on the season.


Tomas Kundratek scored the Hershey goal, an unassisted tally that staked the Bears to a 1-0 lead early in the second period. The Baby Pens scored the next three in succession.


David Leggio stopped 25 of the 28 shots he faced in his Hershey debut.


By The Numbers – Mike Green led the Caps with 22:46 in ice time … Ovechkin and Brooks Laich paced the Caps with six shots on net each … The Capitals had 67 shot attempts to 44 for Colorado … Tom Wilson and Alexander Urbom led the Caps with four hits each … Playing in his 16th career NHL game, Urbom logged 20:53, a single-game career high … Steve Downie led the Avs with five shots on net … Patrick Bordeleau led Colorado with six hits.