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Caps Stumble on Home Ice
Woes Continue Against Western Conference Opponents in Loss to Colorado : Avalanche 4, Capitals 1

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 21, 2009

José Theodore wanted nothing more than to show the Colorado Avalanche how big a mistake his former team made last summer when it let him leave via free agency.

But Theodore's teammates on the Washington Capitals didn't cooperate last night.

The Capitals put forth a timid effort, failed to execute Coach Bruce Boudreau's plan of attack and wound up losing to one of the Western Conference's worst teams, 4-1, before a sold-out crowd that voiced its displeasure as the team exited the Verizon Center ice.

Instead of pulling to within seven points of the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins, the Capitals were left to wonder how they lost to a team that entered the game 24 points behind them in the standings. Washington's last three regulation losses have come against Colorado, Los Angeles and Ottawa, none of which are in playoff position.

"We had nothing; we were horrible out there," Coach Bruce Boudreau said flatly. "Everybody had their bad game at the same time. You win a lot of games in a row, you're going to have a stinker. Today was it."

Second-year center Nicklas Backstrom netted his 15th goal, one more than he scored as rookie, but it wasn't nearly enough on a night when the Capitals repeatedly attempted to stick-handle the puck through the neutral zone, despite their coach's warning.

"Bruce said before the game that's what they were going to do: block the middle," Theodore said. "That we would have to dump the puck and go get it ourselves. It seems that we didn't do it. We didn't listen to the game plan. They were blocking the middle so well that we couldn't get our speed, we couldn't get into the zone."

Alex Ovechkin and his teammates fired 29 shots on Avalanche goalie Andrew Raycroft. That total was their lowest in eight games and marked only the third time in the past 22 games that they were held to fewer than 30 shots on goal.

"We couldn't get pucks deep," Eric Fehr said. "We were trying to be a little too cute, a little too fancy going through the middle."

Ryan Smyth (one goal and two assists) and the Avalanche brought a 2-1 lead into the third period -- and the knowledge that they're the league's best team when leading after two periods. They are now 18-0-0 when ahead after 40 minutes.

"They played their game to a 'T' ", Boudreau said. "I don't know if they made us look bad or we were just real bad."

Tyler Arnason made it 3-1 just 3 minutes 33 seconds into the third period thanks to a turnover in the Capitals zone. Marek Svatos zipped a pass off the sideboards to Arnason, who beat Theodore from the circle.

With about nine minutes remaining, Tomas Fleischmann misfired on an open net. Then less than two minutes after that, Wojtek Wolski converted a two-on-one with Smyth, who dished the puck through defenseman Shaone Morrisonn.

The loss dropped the Capitals to 7-10-0 against the Western Conference. The Avalanche, meanwhile, picked up its first victory in the District since 2000.

Boudreau was unusually curt in his postgame news conference. But the most disappointed person in the Capitals' dressing room was, without a doubt, Theodore.

Theodore spent the previous two seasons in Colorado, and after leading the Avalanche to the second round of the playoffs last spring, thought he would be returning. He found the interest from the Avalanche to be lukewarm and wound up signing a two-year, $9 million deal in Washington.

"I don't think we really gave ourselves a chance to win," Theodore said. "Obviously it was my former team and I came ready to play. But we didn't have the result we wanted. You have to get ready for every team. We have already lost to some teams that are behind us in the standings."

Smyth put Colorado ahead 1-0 at 10:27 after he was permitted to take four whacks at a puck that was jammed between Theodore's skate and the post.

The Capitals tied the game with 15 seconds remaining in the first period after Fleischmann sent a rink-wide pass on the rush to Backstrom, who banked it off the post and past Raycroft. But the Avalanche's stifling play in the neutral zone frustrated the Capitals in the second period and the only goal of the session was Adam Foote's first tally in 106 games, which sent the Avalanche into the third ahead 2-1.

Capitals Notes: Viktor Kozlov skated with his teammates for the second consecutive day yesterday morning, but he missed his seventh consecutive game with a groin muscle pull. . . . John Erskine, who has the flu, did not play.

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