After shaking off another sluggish start on Sunday against the red hot Colorado Avalanche in Denver, the Washington Capitals rebounded and started to turn the twin tides of territory and possession in the second period. When Joel Ward scored to even the game at 1-1, the Caps seemed poised to pull an improbable point or two out of a tough road game in a tough road building.
Instead, another bugaboo came back to bite the Caps, namely, giving up a goal on the shift after scoring a goal.
Colorado needed less than half a minute to regain the lead after Ward’s goal. And although the Caps hung gamely in and were in a position to pull at least a point going into the third period, they ultimately suffered a 4-1 setback to the Avalanche.
A night after they coughed up a late two-goal lead against the Coyotes in Phoenix, the Caps closed out a quick trip out west with just one point to show for the two games.
“[Saturday] night was a tough loss,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “Today, I think this is a hard building to play in. You have to get used to the air and the atmosphere here. But I think in the second period we had pretty good chances. We tied the game and they scored right away. They had the momentum. And again, we had pretty good chances to score in the third but we didn’t.”
Washington fell into an early hole in the third minute of the first period. Avs fourth liner Cody McLeod floated what appeared to be a harmless backhander toward the Caps’ net from the high slot, but Patrick Bordeleau was able to redirect it into the net past Caps goaltender Braden Holtby. Holtby and the Caps protested that Bordeleau’s stick was too high. The goal was upheld after a brief video review, and the Avs led 1-0 at 2:50 of the first.
Colorado used its speed to keep the Caps on their heels for much of the first frame, but Holtby – and a fortuitous bounce or two – kept Washington within a goal. The Caps seemingly started to feel their legs late in the first when they began to spend more time at the Avs’ end of the ice.
At the 12:30 mark of the first period. Colorado owned a pronounced 17-4 advantage in shot attempts. The Avs led the Caps 5-4 in that category over the final 7:30 of the game’s initial stanza.
In the second period, Washington slowly began to tilt the ice on the Avs. Finally, right after a television timeout late in the second period the Caps broke through. Mikhail Grabovski won an offensive zone draw, and threw the puck behind the Colorado goal line. The disc caromed right back out in front and Joel Ward was there to deposit it behind ex-Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov to make it a 1-1 game.
Having spent 35 minutes climbing that hill in the mile high altitude of Denver, Washington was unable to remain on the plateau
Colorado’s Max Talbot pushed the puck down the left wing wall to Gabriel Landeskog behind the Washington net. Finding Caps defenseman Mike Green on the other side of the cage, Landeskog reversed and came back in the direction from which the puck originally came. He floated a nifty backhand pass in front, and Avs defensemam Nick Holden cruised down to the left dot and one-timed a shot over Holtby’s glove to restore Colorado’s lead at 2-1.
Holden’s goal came just 28 seconds after Washington had tied the game.
“That needs to be addressed,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer, of Washington’s recent tendency to surrender goals soon after scoring them. “We need to come out with a better effort right after a goal. It’s a tough building to try and get momentum in and I thought we did there, and we gave it back right away and weren’t able to get it the rest of the night. We’ve just got to be tighter on those; we’ve got to make sure pucks get deep and we’ve got to make sure we keep momentum and carry it over into the next [shift].”
The Caps had a chance to tie the game and perhaps wrest momentum from the Avs in the third, but Washington was unable to score on a 5-on-3 power play of 56 seconds in duration.
Just over a minute after those Avalanche minor penalties expired, the Avs exploited some breakdowns in the Washington end to take a 3-1 lead. Duchene made a great pass to P.A. Parenteau who fired a one-timer past Holtby at 8:12 of the third to all but ice it for the Avs.
Washington had another power play chance late but didn’t score, and Landeskog closed out the game’s scoring with his sixth goal of the season at 18:20 of the third.
“We had opportunities,” says Holtby. “We didn’t score enough goals obviously, but we broke down a few too many times. A couple of those I thought I could have saved. You can’t give a team like that those kind of advantages.”
Tough Town – Washington became the sixth team to come into Denver to play the second half of a set of back-to-back games in the Avalanche’s home barn this season. And the Capitals became the sixth team to leave Denver without as much as a single point in that situation.
“This rink is kind of an anomaly,” says Brouwer, “with the altitude and how fast the boards are and how much the puck bounces out there. We had a little bit of trouble adjusting to those things early in the first but I didn’t think we played a bad first period.
“We had a few bad bounces; a couple of shifts in our zone. [Jason Chimera’s] line and Wardo, they had another great game for us tonight working hard. The game was there; that 5-on-3 kind of got away from us. But I don’t think it was as bad as it ended up.”
Colorado jumped out to a quick start and rode it to a win in Sunday’s game against Washington, the same formula the Avalanche used to earn wins in the previous five games in that situation.
In their six home games this season against foes that played the previous night on the road, the Avs own a 6-1 combined advantage in the first period. The Avalanche has not been outshot in any of those six first periods and owns a combined 72-46 advantage in first period shots on net.
Colorado has trailed for a grand total of 17:11 of the 360 minutes played in those six contests, and all of that time was by a single goal in the same game, against Winnipeg.
The Avs are now 8-2 on home ice this season, and they’ve achieved six of those wins against weary teams trying to adjust to altitude on the fly. Colorado has not allowed more than two goals in any of those half dozen games, and the Avs have outscored the opposition by a combined total of 22-9.
Two Man Trouble – On Saturday night in Phoenix, the Caps had a two-man power play advantage of 71 seconds in length early in the third period of the game against the Coyotes. Already owning a 3-1 lead at that juncture of the game, the Capitals had a chance to put Phoenix away with a tally or two at that point. Washington did not score, and a late Coyotes comeback left the Capitals with one point instead of two as they took a 4-3 shootout defeat.
A night later in Colorado, the Caps trailed by a goal at 2-1 early in the third period. While Washington’s vaunted power play unit – the best in the NHL coming into the game – had seven opportunities to go to work on Saturday night in Phoenix, a hooking call on Colorado’s Cory Sarich at 4:02 of the third period put the Caps a man to the good for just the second time on the night. Given a chance to draw even, the Caps were buzzing the Avs in the Colorado end.
That’s when the Avs were detected with too many men on the ice, giving Washington a 5-on-3 manpower advantage for 56 seconds and a chance to pull even and perhaps pull a point out of what looked to be – at least on paper – one of the team’s most difficult road assignments of the season.
The Caps moved the puck around and got some decent looks – better ones than they had a night earlier in Phoenix – but the result was the same. For the 11th straight time in the regular season dating back to last Jan. 25 in New Jersey, the Caps’ failed to score on a two-man advantage opportunity.
“You’ve got to capitalize on those, especially at the time,” laments Brouwer. “We’re down and that’s going to get us back into the game. The other night we had a chance to win the game in overtime [on a 4-on-3] and tonight we had a chance to tie the game.
“We’ve got to capitalize. We’ve got enough skill out there, enough talent and enough ability to be able to put the puck in the net. We can do it 5-on-4, but we can’t do it 5-on-3 for some reason.”
Those 11 chances have yielded a total of 12:50 of time without a goal with the two-man advantage for Washington.
“It’s all about five guys out there,” says Ovechkin. “I think we had chances to score but we didn’t. When you didn’t score on a 5-on-3 in a long time, you just have a frustration moment. This happens and we have to fight through it.”
Beast Mode – Ward’s goal was his eighth of the season and it came in his 18th game, matching his total achieved in 39 games in 2012-13. Ward scored six goals in 2011-12, his first season with Washington.
Ward’s single-season career high is 17 goals, achieved in 2008-09 with Nashville.
Hello Old Friend – For three-plus seasons starting in 1999-00, Craig Billington served as a capable backup to Washington goaltender Olie Kolzig. These days, Billington serves as Colorado’s assistant general manager and Kolzig is Washington's goaltending coach. The two could be seen reminiscing and catching up between periods of Sunday night's game between their respective employers.
Another First – Holden became the latest player to victimize the Caps for his first NHL goal. When the Caps and Avs met earlier this season at Verizon Center, Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon – the first player chosen overall in the 2013 NHL Draft – netted his first NHL goal against Washington’s Michal Neuvirth.
Holden, a 26-year-old native of Alberta, notched his first NHL tally in his 10th game in the league. He debuted with the Blue Jackets back in 2010-11.
Earlier this season, the Caps were victimized for the first goal of an NHL player's career three times in as many games.
Down On the Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears hosted the Binghamton Senators on Sunday at Giant Center, falling 5-4 in the shootout. The loss dropped the Bears to 3-4-2-2 on the season, 12th place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference.
Josh Brittain got Hershey on the board first with a goal at 6:18 of the first, Peter LeBlanc collecting the lone assist.
Binghamton scored three unanswered goals to take a 3-1 lead into the latter stages of the second period. Hershey’s Jeff Taffe notched a big tally on a Bears’ power play at 19:58 of the second period to pull the home team to within a goal. Dane Byers and Brandon Segal assisted on Taffe’s fourth goal of the season.
The Sens regained their two-goal lead on a shorthanded strike early in the third, but Hershey rallied. With help from blueliners Cameron Schilling and Connor Carrick, Casey Wellman netted his second of the season on a Bears’ power play at 7:39 of the third to make it a 4-3 game.
Hershey drew even at 4-4 late in the third when Garrett Mitchell scored an unassisted, shorthanded goal at 16:12.
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer made 22 saves in a losing effort.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals completed a clean sweep of a weekend home-and-home set with the Wheeling Nailers, taking a 2-1 win in Sunday’s game at Sovereign Center.
Domenic Monardo and Sean Wiles scored to support Riley Gill’s 20-save performance in the Reading crease.
The 6-3 Royals stand atop the ECHL’s Atlantic Division and have allowed the fewest goals (17) of any Eastern Conference club.
By The Numbers – Mike Green led the Caps with 21:50 in ice time … Green and Ovechkin paced Washington with seven shots on net each … Mikhail Grabovski won 11 of 14 draws (79%) on the night … John Carlson led the Capitals with five blocked shots.