The attention-grabbing storyline for Saturday night's Caps-Avs tilt was the return of Semyon Varlamov to D.C. for the first time since he was traded to Colorado back in the summer of 2011 (with just slightly less narrative attention being paid to Nate Schmidt's NHL debut and the Avs' hot start under their new, borderline insane bench boss).
But for a Washington team that entered the second game of a five-game homestand with a 1-3-0 record overall (that could easily be 0-4-0), there were bigger concerns than the stuff that leads recaps like these, namely doing more of the things that win hockey games and getting that desired result. On Saturday night,however, the story didn't change - the Caps were outplayed and outscored en route to a 5-1 loss at the hands of their former netminder and his crazy coach, despite their own promising prospect's debut.
Nine more notes on the game:
- The Avs got on the board first at 6:42 of the first when Alex Tanguay put a puck towards the front of the net that John Carlson reached for and tipped. Perhaps not the smartest play by Carlson - not much good was going to come from the effort, but had the puck gotten through, Gabriel Landeskog was in good position to deflect it on net - and that was the second time in three nights that he put a puck past his own netminder, which is twice as many goals as Caps' defensemen have put into opposing nets so far this season, so there's that. As we noted yesterday, the Caps have been doing a lot of trailing in the early going, and the trend continued on Saturday night.
- Later in the period, Matt Duchene pushed the lead to 2-0 moments after the Caps killed off a Mike Green penalty (thanks to a brilliant stop on Steve Downie by Michal Neuvirth) as the young Colorado forward turned Karl Alzner inside-out and beat Neuvirth high on the shortside. The move was something special - Alzner barely got a stick on him, despite being in seemingly good position. The deficit? Far too commonplace.
- With four minutes left in the second period, the third line was towards the end of a shift and Jason Chimera signaled to the bench for replacement. Martin Erat (remember him?) barely hopped on and Chimera decided he'd play the puck when he found it near his feet. That's Too Many Men. It's a bad penalty at a bad time and, wouldn't you know it, it would cost the Caps (Nathan MacKinnon's first NHL goal). Too Many Men, not enough of them scoring.
- Any thoughts of a comeback were dashed early in the third period when Tanguay squeaked one through Neuvirth. Shorthanded. From the goal line. Bad, meet worse.
- Eric Fehr broke Varlamov's shutout on a one-time conversion of a nice Chimera feed from the wall behind the Colorado net, which was actually a well-deserved reward for a line that had a good night. But even that tiny feeling of positivity was short-lived, as the Avs came right back with an answering tally 21 seconds later. Worse, meet worst.
- The Caps ended the night with a ton of shots on goal, but that usually happens when a team gets blown out of the building - make no mistake about it, when this game was in doubt, Colorado was the better team, and it wasn't all that close.
- When we ranked the organization's top-25 players under the age of 25 last month, we slotted Schmidt at 12th and said this about him: "a high-end puck handler and passer who has wowed observers in the NCAA on many occasions with his skill" with a strong work ethic. Schmidt made an impressive transition from the NCAA to the AHL and will look to build on that in 2013-14. We're betting on an NHL cup of coffee, too... and as a left-handed blueliner - the Caps' biggest need - he could climb the depth chart pretty quickly." Well, that first cup of Joe came early, and Schmidt showed plenty of poise and promise.
- Speaking of Schmidt, half of the Caps' blueline on Saturday night was Schmidt, Alex Urbom and Steve Oleksy. One year ago tonight, that trio had 13 total NHL games played, all Urbom's. Would that even be a top bottom-half of an AHL defense corps? These guys aren't killing the Caps with glaring mistakes, but the little things - first passes, clears, etc. - have been a huge problem (and that goes for the whole group, including the Big Three, John Erskine and Connor Carrick).
- The Caps have now trailed by multiple goals for more total game time than they've had a lead so far this season. That's not good. At all. But this was the first game in which they didn't win or have a lead at some point, which is something.
So the homestand is off to an 0-2-0 start, the season 1-4-0, and the answers are few and far between. There's not much more to it than that right now.