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Avalanche can’t keep up with Capitals, fall 5-3

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The league’s worst team played one of the league’s best. The result is more or less what you would predict.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Too many penalties, too many tip-ins and poor open-ice defense doomed the Colorado Avalanche tonight against a deep and talented Washington Capitals squad.

Like too many Avalanche games this season, tonight’s action began with an early penalty by a veteran player, this time by Francois Beauchemin—an interference penalty on Brett Connolly away from the play. This error was especially egregious because it gave Alexander Ovechkin and Washington’s third-ranked power an opportunity Colorado couldn’t afford. Ovi wouldn’t score and the Capitals would hardly get set-up in the offensive zone, but they would capitalize (ahem) on a failed Nathan MacKinnon shorthanded attempt that quickly shifted back in Colorado’s direction as a three-on-one. A handful of nifty passes later and John Carlson would bury a prime opportunity to give his team the early lead.

Mikko Rantanen would strike back later in the period, catching a pass from Sven Andrighetto and tapping it to MacKinnon, who was coming in with speed. After skating into the middle of the defense, he cut hard right, creating a good deal of space for Rantanen to fill, receive a drop pass a line up an absolute snipe for his 17th goal on the season (tying him with Matt Duchene for the team lead).

True to form, this lead would be short-lived. Just 37 seconds later, Tom Wilson would enter the zone with speed and fire the puck back up to the blue line for Kevin Shattenkirk. His blistering shot would sail through traffic, past Calvin Pickard and into the net, but the tally would ultimately go to Jay Beagle, who had tipped the puck on its way by. The goal was Beagle’s 13th of the year and Washington’s second lead of the game.

Washington would extend this lead early in the second, getting some help from J.T. Compher, who threw the puck over the glass inadvertently in his own end. Marcus Johansson would tip in yet another Shattenkirk shot from the point, scoring his 23rd of the year and giving his team a two-goal advantage. Then it was Evgeny Kuznetsov’s turn, catching a pass from Johansson, wondering briefly why he wasn’t being defended by Francois Beauchemin and nonchalantly finishing the Capitals’ fourth goal of the game to make it 4-1.

But then Colorado made a bit of a run. Matt Nieto finished a beautiful pass from Mikhail Grigorenko to narrow the gap in the second, and then Nathan MacKinnon made the play of Colorado’s (albeit awful) season. He skated through three Capital’s defender like they were drill cones and then finished with a slick backhand to draw the Avalanche to within one. I mean, how cool was this?! Do it more often, please.

The play would spark the Avalanche for much of the third period, but they would eventually fall short. A Matt Duchene error while attempting to enter the zone during a pulled-goalie situation led to a final Lars Eller goal, sealing the game 5-3 until time ran out.

The loss dropped the Avalanche to a (still) league-worst 20-53-3. They will attempt hockey again this Friday, this time, perhaps, with the help of 2016 tenth-overall draft pick Tyson Jost, who left the University of North Dakota after just one year to sign with Colorado early Wednesday evening.