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Poor Start Stalls Avalanche

The Avs suffered their first loss of the season

by Ryan Boulding @rboulding /

WASHINGTON--The Colorado Avalanche isn't going to win every single game it plays during the 2016-17 season, and Tuesday's 3-0 loss to the Washington Capitals was a reminder of that inevitable fact.

There are a lot of good hockey clubs in the NHL and last season's Presidents' Trophy winner is one of them. Colorado had an uphill battle entering the house of Alex Ovechkin to play the second game of a back-to-back set on the road, and a well-rested and Cup-hungry Capitals squad was waiting for them.

"We're not a team that is going to look for excuses. We weren't good enough to start the game," Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said after the defeat. "We weren't ready to skate. They were. Hey, we knew it was going to be a tough turnaround, but that can't happen."

The Avs found themselves in a hole early after Ovechkin converted a man-advantage chance to give Washington a 1-0 lead at the 15:44-mark of the first period. Colorado tried to fight back, bolstered by stellar netminding from Semyon Varlamov, but the period ended with tilted ice nonetheless.

Video: Coach Bednar's reaction from the loss to the Caps

"I think tonight we got a little better as the game went on, but I didn't love our body language and our response after a poor first period," said Bednar. "I think we should have been taking the positives out of that period. You know, Varly makes a bunch of big saves, keeps it 1-0, and we have a chance to continue to win the game. For me, we just didn't push back hard enough.

"In my opinion, that type of period has to be unacceptable for this group."

In the second, T.J. Oshie tallied on another power-play chance, putting the Capitals well ahead before he sealed the victory with a second marker in the final frame.

"Our penalty kill tonight was not good enough, but it was an extension of our 5-on-5 play, which just wasn't good enough," Bednar said.

Ultimately, the battle at Verizon Center would come down almost entirely to special teams play. The Avs, who entered the contest with four power-play markers, failed to convert on three man-advantage opportunities while Washington managed to put home two tallies on five chances.

"We have to be better on our PK, and especially against the team today," forward Andreas Martinsen said. "We had a couple unlucky bounces there and a couple big chances, but I don't think that is what killed us today. It was a different story.

"For us guys out there on the penalty kill, we have to have some pride and be better in being in the right spots and blocking shots and making sure that they don't get those big opportunities. I'm sure we're going to get there, but we weren't quite there today."

Varlamov was one of the lone bright spots in the game. The well-rested Russian goalkeeper turned aside 37 shots, including 19 in the first period, to keep the game closer than it could have been.

"There is the positive in the game for me. He was outstanding. It could have been 3-0 or worse after the first period, and that's what it ended up being total," Bednar said. "There might have been one or two other players that I liked, but he was the best player on the ice for either team."

The Avalanche will look to get back on track on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning while also using Tuesday's loss as a learning experience.

Video: Beauchemin on loss to Capitals

"We'll talk about our response; how we're going to play after we win games and how we're going to play after we lose games," Bednar said. "I think it is all about our response. You know, that was a bad night. Again, it was a tough turnaround for our guys. We'll give them a little slack there, but it is all about the response and what we do next game."

An area of focus for the club will certainly be stronger starts, as the Avs have fallen down by at least two goals before responding in each of its first three games this season.

"It's tough. This is the third game in a row where we've given up goals early in the game and we're trailing from behind," rear guard Francois Beauchemin said. "Eventually, we're going to have to make sure that we're ready right at the bat [to] get a better start, get the first goal and play with the lead.

"It's a concern, but we just have to make sure that we're ready to play. It's preparation. Everybody, individually, we have to make sure that we're ready to go as soon as the puck drops to start the game."



Goaltender Semyon Varlamov wasn't the only player on the Avalanche to come up with a big play in the blue paint. There was a scramble in the first period that saw defenseman Francois Beauchemin make a quick decision to keep the puck out of the net.

After Varlamov made a point-blank stop, the puck took flight straight up into the air. It landed behind Colorado's keeper and was primed for a stick to whack it into twine, but Beauchemin jumped in and changed things.

Video: COL@WSH: Beauchemin uses skates to help out Varlamov

Adept at baseball--and obviously hockey--Beauchemin showed off some fancy footwork when he created a barrier with his skates, stopped a shot and then kicked the puck up to Varlamov, who covered it to stop the play.

"I think we were still on the penalty kill. The puck goes up in the air," Beauchemin recalled. "Varly was kind of off balance, and I just had the reaction of putting my skates on the goal line. The puck happened to hit me, and Varly was able to cover it. That was a big kill for us and just a lucky bounce."

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