Capitals vs. Avalanche: Washington loses its fifth straight game for first time since 2007

Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin dives into the play in front of Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson, who made 40 saves on 42 shots (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin dives into the play in front of Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson, who made 40 saves on 42 shots (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2010; 12:28 AM

For the first time in a week, the Washington Capitals made life difficult for an opposing goaltender, crashing the net and wreaking havoc in search of deflections and tips. But the team's renewed dedication on Saturday night at Verizon Center wasn't enough to keep its losing streak from reaching five games - the longest in Coach Bruce Boudreau's tenure in Washington.

The Capitals took 42 shots on goal - with another 42 attempts that never reached the intended target - including 17 in the third period, but couldn't complete the comeback and fell, 3-2, to the Colorado Avalanche. Unlike its previous four defeats, Washington showed resolve.

"That looked more like our team," said Boudreau, whose Capitals travel to face the New York Rangers on Sunday. "But when things aren't going well that's what happens. But it's on the upswing, it's not on the downswing. If we have an effort like that again [Sunday], we might get rewarded for it."

For all their improved play though, the Capitals made mistakes at key times that allowed the quick-footed Avalanche chances in transition and spotted the visitors a two-goal lead that they wouldn't relinquish.

Kevin Shattenkirk scored on a bad-angle shot immediately after a faceoff win by Paul Stastny against league-leading faceoff man David Steckel for a 1-0 Colorado lead just 2 minutes 14 seconds into the contest. Mike Knuble tied it for the Capitals midway through the first when he backhanded a rebound from an Alex Ovechkin shot in for his 250th NHL goal.

With less than two minutes remaining in the frame, the Capitals made another error. A bad change off the bench left a gaping hole on the right side of the Washington defensive zone, where Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson received the puck. As the Capitals tried to recover, he skated to the bottom of the faceoff circle and fired a wrist shot that rung off the post and in to make it 2-1 heading into the intermission.

The Capitals, whose last five-game skid was Nov. 10-21, 2007 - the five games that immediately preceded Boudreau taking the helm - played a physical game and didn't shy away from the crease. During one of those trips to the front of the net, in the second period, Alexander Semin became involved in a shoving match with Colorado's John-Michael Liles.

After jabs back and forth, Semin cross-checked Liles to the back of the head, earning a five-minute major and a game misconduct. It was on the power play from Semin's offensive-zone penalty that a wide-open Stastny scored to make it 3-1 on a goal that would stand as the game-winner.

"It's a one-goal game, and they score on that power play. That's the difference," Boudreau said. Semin "extended his arms. He got cross-checked a couple times and he retaliated, so we'll see. [Liles] was bleeding, so I guess they had to call it five."

Still 30 minutes remained in the contest after Stastny's tally, and the game continued to grow chippier as the Capitals tried to wear down the Avalanche, which was in the final outing of a five-game road trip and playing the second of back-to-back games. Colorado was also without leading scorer Milan Hejduk and lost defenseman Kyle Quincey to injury mid-game.

Leading Washington's comeback attempt was former Avalanche player Matt Hendricks. He tried to stuff the puck past Anderson with just less than 13 minutes gone in the middle period, but there was no clear view of the puck in the net. Colorado carried the two-goal edge into the third but not before Washington sought momentum in the form of several scraps by Matt Bradley, Hendricks and others as they flooded the Avalanche crease.

"The last couple games there have been point shots and nobody in front and goalies making easy saves," Eric Fehr said. "When you're struggling to score goals you can't have them making those easy saves, so we tried to get in front and make sure he couldn't see anything."

Hendricks scored to make it 3-2 on the power play less than five minutes into the final period on a nifty backhanded shot between his legs in the midst of the Capitals' frantic comeback attempt. The tally was the result of Nicklas Backstrom chipping the puck off the boards to keep it in the offensive zone, Knuble pulling it out of the air with his hand and sending the puck toward the top of the slot, where it was deflected to Hendricks's reach.

But the first power-play goal for Washington in 10 opportunities and numerous scoring chances in the waning minutes wouldn't be enough to boost the Capitals to their first win since Dec. 1.

"You're going to have those nights," said Hendricks, who Boudreau said was the Capitals' best player. "You play like that every night, you're going to win more games then you're going to lose. That's the good thing. That leaves a good feeling and something to build from."

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