Coming into Thursday’s match-up, the Washington Capitals had won seven straight against the Colorado Avalanche. That streak came to an end after another lackluster road game from the Caps as they go down 6-2 in Denver.
By Glynn Cosker
DCpuckDrop Managing Editor
The Colorado Avalanche came into their showdown with the Washington Capitals on Thursday 5-1-1 at home. The Avs reinforced that stat right away by scoring against Capitals backup goalie Philipp Grubauer after just 17 seconds of the contest when Gabriel Landeskog shot home from between the circles. Grubauer must have thought it was going to be another bad night for him between the pipes, even though his teammates were better-rested for this game compared to his previous outings. He was correct, as the Capitals looked poor in a 6-2 defeat against the Avalanche inside the Pepsi Center.
Vrana Is Healthy Scratch
Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz tinkered with his offensive lines by promoting Brett Connolly to the third line in place of Jakub Vrana – who didn’t get a jersey – and installing Nathan Walker on the fourth line.
“He’s a good young player, and I think he’s going to have a real good career,” Trotz told The Washington Post about Vrana. “Just like all young players, there’s a difference between being involved and just participating. Right now, I feel as a young player — and it’s a grind in this league — that he’s in that participation mode, rather than involvement mode.” It’s a tough break for Vrana, but also a wake-up call to all Caps forwards. No-one is a safe bet this term.
On the blue line, Christian Djoos was out injured – replaced by Taylor Chorney – and Matt Niskanen started only his second game after being out for more than a month on injured reserve.
Slow Start For Capitals
Once again, the Capitals failed to find their footing early and looked tired in a road game. Not only did they allow the Landeskog tally, but Colorado also owned a ton of the play in the first period – controlling the puck for a majority of the first 20 minutes.
Washington was awarded the game’s first power play with just under three minutes to go in the first after a boarding call on T. J. Oshie by Blake Comeau; the hit should have been a 5-minute major for Comeau. That said, Colorado did a good job of getting bodies in front of the Caps’ shots during the man-advantage, and Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped a couple of Alex Ovechkin’s blasts from the point. With six seconds left in the period, the Caps left on the ice all fell asleep, allowing Nathan MacKinnon to sail in and go top-shelf on Grubauer. Even though the Capitals out-shot the Avs 12-10 in the period, and stayed out of the penalty box, the first period was still quite pedestrian for Washington.
Second Period Ups and Downs
The second period saw the Avalanche get their first power play after only 32 seconds when John Carlson was called for tripping, but they failed to convert and only had one shot on goal. They came closer to scoring on their second man-advantage after 6:50 in the second. However, the Caps came through with a huge penalty kill with some brave body stops all around. With 10:29 gone in the stanza, the Capitals embarked on their second power play of the night and needed to make something happen. They didn’t – with only one shot on goal they almost gave away a one-on-zero breakaway.
It didn’t take long after that for the Avs to get their third goal of the night to make the score 3-0. The Caps’ Walker lost the puck behind Grubauer’s net to MacKinnon, whose shot rebounded off Grubauer’s pad for Colin Wilson to slot home. Another goal that was not Grubauer’s fault. Two of the Avs’ goals at this point were the result of a poor back-check from the Caps – along with missed assignments and puck watching in Washington’s zone.
Connolly pulled a goal back with less than two minutes to play in the second period, jabbing home from close in; Tom Wilson and Jay Beagle had assists on the goal. Only 60 seconds later, Colorado thought they’d gone up 4-1 when Nikita Zadorov fired home through traffic, but a successful coach’s challenge for goalie interference kept it a two-goal difference going into the third. The Capitals got lucky, because it certainly did not look like an interference call, and the Denver faithful let the officials know. Colorado out-shot the Capitals 8-7 in the second.
Penalty Shot In The Third
“We need this third period; it’s a big third period for us,” said Connolly during the second intermission. Well, within five minutes, the Avs’ Landeskog had a penalty shot, scored, and Colorado went up 4-1. The penalty shot was a result of Niskanen giving away the puck to Landeskog at the center line, which gave Dmitry Orlov no choice other than to draw the penalty on the one-on-zero, down-the-middle breakaway. With nine minutes gone in the third, the Avalanche had a power-play goal when Mikko Rantanen was left all alone in the slot and shot home past a stick-less Grubauer – to make the score 5-1 Colorado.
The Caps had a power-play with seven minutes left, and produced a fine goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov from a nice pass from Oshie. However, any chance of a comeback soon fizzled out when Madison Bowey slashed Colin Wilson for the Avs fifth power play. Grubauer made a couple of good saves on that penalty kill, but couldn’t keep Landeskog from completing his hat trick on the Avs’ sixth power play – seconds after the fifth one – to make the final score 6-2 to the home team.
This was an ugly game for the Capitals, and it came two days after an uglier game (in Nashville). The back-check was suspect, there was too much puck watching and no killer instinct from anyone – with the exception of Wilson and Oshie. And, once again, way too many penalties were given up.
It’s time for Trotz to shake things up in time for the next match on Saturday against the Minnesota Wild at Capital One Arena. Maybe putting Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Oshie on the same line is a good start.