WASHINGTON - The effort was greatly improved, as were the quality of shots on net. It was a better night for the scuffling Washington Capitals, but not enough to defeat Craig Anderson and the opportunistic Colorado Avalanche.
Anderson made 40 saves while Paul Stastny and Kevin Shattenkirk keyed the offense in a 3-2 victory Saturday night at Verizon Center. It was the fifth consecutive defeat for the Capitals - the longest such streak since Bruce Boudreau was named coach in November 2007.
"That looked more like our team tonight," Boudreau said. "When things aren't going well, that's what happens. It is on the upswing - it's not on the downswing."
Added left wing Matt Hendricks: "We made a couple of mistakes and they took advantage of it, but I'm happy with the effort tonight compared to the last few games."
The Capitals had five players missing from practice the day before because of the flu, and were without top defensemen Mike Green (illness) and Jeff Schultz (broken thumb). Still, the Avalanche were short two of their top offensive players in Chris Stewart (broken hand) and Milan Hejduk (groin) and lost defenseman Kyle Quincey to a shoulder injury during the contest.
Colorado was also playing for the second straight night on the East Coast and the fifth of a five-game road trip. Still, the Avalanche were able to snare a victory against the desperate Capitals thanks in part to a couple of breakdowns and some strong work in goal by Anderson, who became the fourth goalie to make at least 35 saves against Washington during this five-game skid.
"I think we had a solid game," Anderson said. "I think we came and put the work boots on and we put a pretty good game plan together for what we thought was going to be a tough game."
Stastny and Shattenkirk hooked up for two of Colorado's goals and Stastny set up the third. The Avs' second straight victory moved them, at least temporarily pending the outcome in Vancouver, to the top of the Northwest Division.
The Capitals remained a point in front of Montreal for second place in the Eastern Conference, but their lead in the Southeast Division is down to four points over Atlanta -- and the Thrashers have a game in hand.
"Both conferences are so close," Stastny said. "Fortunately for them, I think they had such a good start that they can lose a couple in a row and still be first. Every game is so important, no matter if you lose a couple, squeak out a point or if you win a couple. Any day you can jump three places in the standings or drop three or four places, so it is a big win."
Shattenkirk put the Avalanche in front 2:14 into the opening period. He skated towards the goal line near the right wall and sent the puck towards the net. It hit the inside of goaltender Michal Neuvirth's right leg and squeezed across the goal line.
It was Shattenkirk's fifth of the season. This was his first game in this arena since capturing the NCAA title with Boston University here in 2009, when he assisted on the game-winning goal in overtime for the Terriers. He leads all rookie defensemen with 16 points.
Mike Knuble got Washington even at 9:45 with his sixth of the season. Alex Ovechkin went past Colorado defenseman Ryan O'Byrne by putting the puck through his skates and then sent a shot to the net. Knuble was at the top of the crease and backhanded the rebound out of the air and into the net. It was the 250th goal of Knuble's career - 200 of which have come since his 30th birthday.
Ryan Wilson took advantage of a defensive breakdown by the Capitals to help Colorado regain the lead. Stastny had the puck along the right wall and too many Washington players drifted towards him. He found Wilson alone near the blue line, and the defenseman snapped a shot past Neuvirth at 18:39 for his first goal of the season fourth of his career.
Stastny had set up Shattenkirk for Colorado's first goal, and he returned the favor to help the Avalanche to a two-goal advantage. Alexander Semin was ejected and given a five-minute major penalty for cross-checking John-Michael Liles in the back of the head after the whistle in front of the Colorado net.
Shattenkirk came off the bench, collected a pass from Daniel Winnik along the right wing and hit Stastny with a perfect pass near the left post for a tap-in at 9:53 of the middle period.
"It was certainly a gut check for us tonight and I thought our guys responded real well," Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. "We had some excuses tonight and we didn't use them. Our guys competed real hard."
Hendricks made it a one-goal game again at 4:30 of the third period. Knuble's power-play shot didn't reach the net, but Hendricks corralled it and put a backhanded shot between his legs with his back to Anderson. But despite outshooting Colorado 17-5 in the third period, the Caps couldn't beat Anderson again.
Five losses in a row is not something the Capitals are accustomed to - especially not since four of them were at home - and they will try to snap out of this streak Sunday at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.
"We've had some tough breaks during this stretch but I think it's great the way we stayed strong in the third period," forward Eric Fehr said. "I thought we played a pretty good game. This is the way we have to start playing more often."
1 - 0 COL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 COL
3 - 1 COL
3 - 2 COL
Cross checking (maj)