Capitals no match for the champs, fall to Avs for fourth straight loss


The reeling Washington Capitals faced a tall task Saturday night to right themselves. The defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche arrived at Capital One Arena in strong form, near the top of the Western Conference.

The Capitals were not up to the challenge, however. A taut game through two periods ultimately turned into a 4-0 loss, their fourth straight. At 7-10-3, the Capitals are seventh in the eight-team Metropolitan Division, 13 points behind first-place New Jersey.

The hosts sent 32 shots at Avalanche netminder Alexandar Georgiev, but none got past him. The Capitals’ best chance in the final 20 minutes came from Anthony Mantha, who was stopped by Georgiev with a routine save with under seven minutes remaining.

“I don’t think we put ourselves in enough good positions to score goals tonight,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said. “Everything was more perimeter than the interior, but just with the adversity throughout the course of the game, we didn’t do a good job of handling it.”

Darcy Kuemper, in his first game against his former team since signing here as a free agent in the offseason, stopped 25 shots.

Nursing a 2-0 lead midway into the third period, Colorado (10-5-1) delivered a dagger when Jacob MacDonald ripped a puck toward Kuemper that deflected in off Andrew Cogliano’s skate to put the Avalanche up 3-0. Artturi Lehkonen scored off a slick passing play with 3:48 left to produce the game’s final score.

The loss marked the second time this season the Capitals have been shut out (the first was a 2-0 loss to Dallas on Oct. 27). The Capitals are 2-6-3 in their past 11 games.

“I feel like we had a better start to this game than we’ve had the last few. It’s very frustrating. I feel like we’re such a good hockey team and it’s kind of gotten into our heads a little bit,” forward Marcus Johansson said. “And we just got to work through it, we got to find a way to work together to get through this.”

Washington, which outshot the Avalanche 14-7 in the opening period, controlled the majority of play in the first 20 minutes, but a pair of tripping penalties late proved costly.

Gifted a five-on-three chance in the final two minutes of the period, defenseman Cale Makar delivered with his one-timer from the left circle with 20 seconds remaining. Kuemper turned away a flurry of chances earlier in the power play but couldn’t get to Makar’s blast.

“We started with the right intentions,” Laviolette said. “In the first 15 minutes we were pushing, we were good defensively, and, like I said, situations happened on the ice, and I just don’t think they responded very well to them.”

The Avalanche doubled the lead with a highlight-reel tally from star Nathan MacKinnon at 13:14 of the second period. MacKinnon displayed some dazzling stickhandling, dangling the puck past Nicolas Aube-Kubel with ease before he flipped a shot past Kuemper.

Here is what else to know about the Capitals’ loss:

Aube-Kubel came back from his three-game suspension Saturday. He received the ban after an illegal check to the head of Tampa Bay’s Cal Foote on Nov. 11. Aube-Kubel said he understood why he received the suspension but hoped it would have been shorter.

“It’s tough because he was in a vulnerable situation and it happened so fast,” Aube-Kubel said Saturday morning. “When you have a play in your head, you want to make it happen that way. Hopefully he’s better. Reached out to [Foote] and made sure he’s okay.”

Aube-Kubel’s return to the lineup Saturday also meant a little more while playing the Avalanche. Aube-Kubel won the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche last season, scoring a career-high 11 goals and 11 assists in 67 games.

Backstrom, Oshie practice

Nicklas Backstrom practiced Saturday for the first time since he underwent hip resurfacing surgery in the offseason. Backstrom has been skating with Tom Wilson (knee) away from the team since late October.

“It’s fun to see him out there,” Johansson said. “It’s obviously a good sign. He looked good. He’s got that presence too, I think, when he’s just around and out there. I think it’s a good start to have him out there with the group.”

There is still no timetable for Backstrom’s return, but he didn’t look to be in pain during Saturday’s morning skate.

“It was good,” Laviolette said of Backstrom practicing again. “It’s part of the process where they do a lot of stuff behind this wall and then they do stuff that we don’t necessarily see on the ice and they progress and progress. And that’s the next progression, is to get out with our guys and start to move a little bit.”

T.J. Oshie also practiced in a noncontact jersey. He is still out indefinitely, and there is no timetable for his return. He sustained a lower-body in Nashville on Oct. 29.

Washington went 0 for 2 on the power play against Colorado, extending a stretch that is now 1 for 26 over the past six games. The unit’s only goal was in a 5-4 shootout loss to St. Louis on Thursday, when John Carlson scored late in the third period.

The Capitals only had one shot on goal through their first two power-play chances.

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