Game 5 Recap: Varly Returns to DC and Shuts Down the Caps, Wins 5-1

Patrick Smith

Semyon Varlamov makes a triumphant return to the nation's capitol and keeps the Avs in it until the offense piled on the points.

This recap was intended to be short and sweet but the Mrs. loaded me up with pork chops, mashed taters, peas, yeast rolls, and iced tea a few minutes into the game. I'm right on the edge of a food coma and the words, they are a flowin'. Also, you're now reading the soothing scribblings of a Level 2 USAHockey coach (pending a mandatory background check, of course. THANKS OBAMA!). That was a looooooooooooooong morning at the rink...

Anyway, the Avalanche finished off their first East Coast swing with a visit to Washington DC to take on the Capitals. Semyon Varlamov returned to the Avalanche net to take on the team that traded him away for a bunch of good picks so that the guy backing him up could lose his job to an even younger guy in the system within a year. That first guy is, of course, Michal Neuvirth who was making his first start of the new NHL season.

The first period featured a fairly balanced flow, though I felt that the possession advantage and better scoring opportunities were Colorado's. That's not to say there weren't errors made by the guys in white. Ohhh, there were plenty of errors. Thankfully, Varlamov continued his early season trend of big saves early in the game as he saw quality scoring opportunities as a result of some 2012-2013-esque own-zone turnovers and weak clears. The top line of Slap Fight! + Downie was operating at full speed, but surprisingly the best line for the Avs (IMO anyway) was Paul Stastny's. He, Alex Tanguay, and Gabriel Landeskog controlled play at both ends of the rink and generated good chances on the rush and with sustained cycles and possession. Point in case: the first goal.

A good attack from a weird neutral zone transition/turnover saw a near 3-on-2 develop very quickly as Landeskog drove the center of the ice. He put a nice backhand pass to Tanguay who fired on net. The reaching stick of Caps defenseman John Carlson got a piece of the shot but it was the wrong piece and the subtle deflection beat Neuvirth to put the Avs up 1-0 at the 7 minute mark. It sounded like they were playing in a mausoleum given the way the crowd at the usually raucous Verizon Center seemed to be sitting on their hands.

That wasn't the end of the Avalanche scoring in the period though. After Jamie McGinn (who had a great night by the way) was clipped with a Mike Green high stick in front of the Washington net, the Avs rolled out the power-play unit. They broke out all the oldies for this one: Erik Johnson had shots blocked, Matt Duchene spun, Ryan O`Reilly tried to one-up him, etc. before the puck was cleared. Then on the rush up the ice as the penalty expired, Duchene put the rest of the NHL on notice with a spectacular one-on-one bitchification of Karl Alzner as he reached around the d-man and roofed it over a down-early Neuvirth. 2-zed good guys.

The period finished with some scary chances in front of Varlamov, some heady veteran play by Johnson and Jan Hejda, and some signs of things to come as the Washington cycle began to get established, especially against rookie Nathan MacKinnon's line.

Varlamov was called on early in the second period and had to make a REALLY aggressive save on a scrambly play to his right side. Vintage Varly with freakish edge control and recovery. Washington's top line answered the bell and started to put all their talent on display as the ice was tilted the Caps' way for stretches of the period and play started to feel very up-and-down the ice. It wasn't that the Avs were sitting on a lead, they just didn't play that well. Eric Fehr's line in particular created havoc for forwards and defenseman in the Colorado defensive zone.

A good shift by the Stastny line that didn't result in a goal and a rage-moment by Downie were highlights of the early going in the second period. Things got a little dicey when the 4th line got hemmed in their own end due to the Washington cycle and Roy had to take his timeout after an icing call. Good strategy as it netted another icing call and the Caps top line got a redo in the Avalanche end. This time Nicklas Backstrom won the face-off back to Alexander Ovechkin. He got off a quick, powerful shot that Cody McLeod appeared to block with the back of his leg. He needed help off the ice and didn't see any action for the remainder of the game.

Sprinkled throughout the period were more outstanding saves by Varlamov. He definitely had some luck go his way, but he also had some spectacular pad saves through traffic, off deflections, etc. One in particular was a result of Duchene whiffing on a puck in his defensive slot. Said puck went right to Ovechkin who got nearly all of it, but Varly got more with his glove as he fought off the hard shot and got the cover when it dropped to his feet.

However the next milestone of the game came on a mental error by the Caps. After getting whistled for a Too Many Men penalty with just under four minutes to go in the frame, the Caps were faced with the vastly-improved Colorado power play. The Caps thought they'd won a battle along the boards and flipped the puck high at the blueline but Johnson made a solid play to catch the puck and drop it to his stick. It then worked around the perimeter to Stastny who was below the goal line. Nathan MacKinnon had found some quiet ice five feet above the crease in the slot and he wouldn't miss from there after burying the feed from Stastny. 3-0 Avs and joyous celebration by the rookie.

It's gonna be hard on him when we send him back to Juniors after 4 more games, right?

The 2nd period ended with more troubling cycling by the Washington attack and a holding penalty on Johnson. The penalty carried over to the 3rd and the fresh ice and fresh legs definitely benefited the Avalanche. An aggressive forecheck by Tanguay and Stastny caught the Caps flat-footed in the deep end of the Washington zone. Even though Neuvirth appeared to be in position, Tanguay put a shot on net from a horrific angle. Poor post positioning (IMO) by the goalie saw a hole open up as he dropped and the puck snuck through. Shortie and the Avs are up 4-0.

The aforementioned Caps cycle and Fehr would answer 44 seconds later just after the power play expired. The Washington possession system got the top line and pairing running around a little. As a result, Fehr redirected a pass out from behind the net to make it a three goal game. For all of about 20 seconds. Jamie McGinn and his new BFF's MacKinnon and P.A. Parenteau transitioned into a quick 3-on-2 on a neutral zone turnover. MacKinnon passed to Parenteau on the right boards and all three continued into the zone with speed. Parenteau threw it back across the rink to McGinn who roofed it over the sliding Neuvirth to restore the four goal lead. 5-1 Avalanche with over 17 minutes left in the game.

Colorado attempted to put the game on lockdown with mixed results. The rookie's line still struggled against the Washington possession game, but it wasn't limited to just them. Slap Fight got a little sloppy in their end and Varlamov and O'Reilly had to combine to make a couple of saves. In fact, Varlamov was called on to make several multiple-save sequences throughout the period. The rest of the period was fairly ho-hum as the Caps appeared to just want to get it over with and the Avs were differently downshifted at times. Fans were treated to a John Mitchell breakaway, a patent-pending Ryan Wilson hip check, and a great Varlamov glove save on a point blank Backstrom shot. A few boos rained down before the furloughed faithful headed to the parking lot. Heck, Varlamov got to start his fist-pump celebration with 10 seconds left in the game!

MHH Three Stars

  1. Varlamov (38 saves where the work got harder as the game went on)
  2. Stastny (62% in the dot, 2 assists, and his 400th & 401st career points)
  3. Nathan MacKinnon (1st NHL goal for the rook)
Honorable Mention: Tanguay (smart possession plays, 2 goals); Matt Duchene (pure talent on that goal); Jamie McGinn (Ping Free in October!!)

Lines

  • O'Reilly - Duchene SLAP FIGHT!! - Downie
  • Landeskog - Stastny -Tanguay
  • McGinn - MacKinnon - Parenteau
  • Bordeleau - Mitchell - McLeod
  • Johnson-Hejda
  • Sarich-Benoit
  • Wilson-Guenin
  • Varlamov
- Healthy Scratches: Holden, Barrie

Quick Hits

  • Newly returned Ryan Wilson was tasked with matching up with uber-forward Alex Ovechkin all night. Welcome back Ryan, you get the Hart Trophy winner. He ended up helping the Avs ruin Ovechkin's 4-game goal streak though.
  • Corey Sarich welcomed Caps rookie d-man Nate Schmidt to the league with a good hit in the first.
  • The last power play opportunity for the Avs in the 3rd featured two distinct looks (passing to breakdown the box and then the 2nd unit rolled out with down-low cycling and net drives). It was startling.
  • Washington head coach Adam Oates commented before the game that while the Avs are playing well, they've also gotten away with plenty of mistakes because their goaltending was bailing them out. I know, I have a hard time believing it after last year too, Adam.

Next Up

The Avs head home to face new division foes Dallas on Tuesday night.

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