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Power Play The Difference In Goaltending Duel

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

It should have been predictable that two of the strongest goalies in recent weeks would put on a defensive show in the blue paint.

Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov made 36 saves and the Washington Capitals' Braden Holtby stopped 31 shots, however the difference ultimately was special teams on Monday at Verizon Center. Both clubs scored power-play goals, but the Capitals' extra-man tally ended up being the winner in the Avalanche's 2-1 loss.

Both netminders have seen plenty of game action recently as Varlamov has started in nine of the last 10 games—including eight straight—since his return from a groin injury on Dec. 23, while Holtby played in his 25th consecutive contest (19 of them starts), a franchise record.

Varlamov, named the NHL second star of the week earlier in the day, entered the game on a season-high three-game winning streak and had compiled a 6-2-0 record, a 1.96 goals-against average, .940 save percentage and two shutouts since returning from injury. Holtby had posted a 12-2-4 record, a 2.14 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and two shutouts in his last 18 contests.

“Both goalies played really well tonight," Colorado forward Matt Duchene said. "We generated some good chances. I thought we did some good things… We put it on them pretty hard [in the third period]. We had some good chances. It’s disappointing we couldn’t get the [tying] goal.”

The Avs fired 18 shots in the final 20 minutes, but couldn't beat Holtby. The team did get several good looks late with Varlamov pulled and the extra attacker on the ice, but the puck didn't cooperate.

Alex Tanguay, who scored on the power play for Colorado's only goal in the second period, just missed on a shot that went through the crease and wide of the left post with 1:07 left. The Avs had two other solid scoring chances from Jarome Iginla and Nathan MacKinnon in the closing seconds, but neither could find the back twine.

"I thought they responded well," Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said of his offensive players. "I thought they had a good game. Despite the fact that we only scored one goal, I thought we had some good chances.

"We had a solid third, and unfortunately we didn't have some bounces go our way."

Alex Ovechkin scored the winning goal on the power play with 2:14 left in the second period after sneaking in at the left circle and snapping a shot from a cross-ice pass by Varlamov, his teammate from the Russian National Team.

It was Ovechkin's 22nd goal of the season and the 74th game-winner of his career, passing Peter Bondra for the most in Capitals franchise history.

"A little bit of a breakdown on the last power play by them," Tanguay said. "We want to stay tight on that No. 8 (Ovechkin), and he got open and we saw what happened."

Said Varlamov of Ovechkin's goal: “He was in a good position. We all know he’s got a great shot, and that was a perfect shot right between my legs.”

The man-advantage opportunity for Washington came after Varlamov was called for roughing 1:12 earlier, a call Roy disagreed with on the bench at the time and after the game while talking to reporters

"If I expressed myself, I would have had two more penalties," Roy said following the final buzzer.

Overall, Varlamov had another terrific night as he made at least 30 saves for the fourth straight game. The only even-strength shot that got past him was the one that he couldn't get a good read on because of traffic in front.

After a faceoff win in the Avs' zone and a shot from the high slot that was blocked by several players in front of Varlamov, the Caps' Jay Beagle got to the loose puck first and knocked it past the Colorado's goalie's blocker at 7:34 of the opening period.

"It was a fortunate bounce by them. I think it went off our shin pad, went to the guy in front of the net," said Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon of the score. "Can't do anything about that."

Before the opening goal, the game mostly featured play away from the nets as only two total shots were fired, one for each squad.

TANGUAY TALLIES TO BREAK DROUGHT

Alex Tanguay broke an eight-game goal-less drought with a hard work power-play goal that tied the game 1-1 at 10:58 of the second period.

After not getting a man-advantage chance in the two teams' first meeting on Nov. 20, Colorado finally got its first on a Joel Ward tripping penalty at 9:09 of the middle frame and capitalized. Colorado went 1-for-2 on the power play with eight shots overall.

Tanguay's team-leading 13th goal came from a nice setup by linemate Jarome Iginla. After receiving the puck in the neutral zone from Tyson Barrie, Iginla deked at the blue line, moved down the left wing in the Washington zone and made a clean backhand pass to Tanguay in the slot.

Tanguay's first shot was stopped by Holtby, but the puck came straight back to him, allowing the left wing to whack in the rebound.

"I think for us it is just speed. Just get the puck in our setups then just making sure we stick to our work ethic first," Tanguay said of the Avs' power play. "Our skill will take over after that, and we'll create some opportunities. That was quite a great play by Iggy, beat his guy down the wall, and I was lucky enough to get the puck and get two cracks at it."

Tanguay also scored in the Avs' game last season in Washington. That goal was his first in his return to the Avalanche.

HOLDEN PLAYS IN GAME NO. 100

It might be an understatement to say the last season and a half has been a dream come true for Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden.

Holden

Since making his Avalanche debut on Nov. 1, 2013 at Dallas, Holden has been a regular on Colorado's blue line and appeared in his 100th NHL contest Monday night in Washington.

"If you told me at the start of my career that I was going to have a 100 games when I'm 27 years old, I would have called you a liar," Holden said. "It's very exciting and a proud moment obviously for me and my family and everyone that got me here."

After beginning his professional career in the Blue Jackets organization and appearing in seven total games with Columbus at the NHL level from 2010 to 2013, Holden appears to have found a home with the Avs.

All of the rear guard's 12 goals and 21 assists in his career have come in an Avalanche uniform, and this past summer he signed a three-year contract extension to keep him in Colorado through the 2017-18 season.

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