WASHINGTON – When Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov took the ice at Verizon Center on Saturday for the first time since the Washington Capitals traded him over two years ago, he could feel his legs nervously shaking.
Yet when it came time for the game to start, Varlamov composed himself, stymying his former team at every turn, making 40 saves as the Avalanche remained unbeaten in a 5-1 victory against the Capitals.
Colorado is now 5-0-0 for the first time since the franchise relocated to Denver from Quebec in 1995.
“He’s playing outstanding,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “What I like about Varly is that he’s under control. He’s always square to the shooters, he gets out of the net, he’s playing with a lot of confidence and he deserves it. The success that he has, he has done it on his own.”
Varlamov is now 4-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .970 save percentage.
His former goaltending partner, Michal Neuvirth, did not fare as well, allowing five goals on 28 shots, the first of which came less than seven minutes into the game.
Working a give-and-go with Gabriel Landeskog, Alex Tanguay received the pass at the left circle and snapped the puck towards Neuvirth. Tanguay’s shot deflected off John Carlson’s outstretched stick and past Neuvirth for his first goal of the season.
Nearly eight minutes later, the Avalanche took a 2-0 lead seconds after failing to score on their first power play. Matt Duchene collected Ryan O’Reilly’s pass in stride near the red line, charging down the right-wing boards before Mike Green, serving a high-sticking minor, was released from the penalty box. Duchene’s lightning-quick backhand-forehand deke eluded Karl Alzner, and Duchene had just enough space to roof a short-side snap shot over Neuvirth’s shoulder for his third goal.
Washington thoroughly outshot Colorado in the second period, putting 19 shots on Varlamov, but he turned them all away, most impressively a right-pad save on Tom Wilson during a scramble in front. With a late power-play opportunity to swing momentum, the Avalanche took advantage when Paul Stastny found Nathan MacKinnon in the slot for a point-blank goal. The 18-year-old punctuated his first career goal with a leap into the boards as his teammates mobbed him in celebration.
The Capitals entered the third period with time remaining on a power play and a chance to cut into their three-goal deficit, but it was Tanguay who scored shorthanded from a sharp angle to give the Avalanche a 4-0 lead. Eric Fehr responded 44 seconds later to ruin Varlamov’s shutout bid, but Jamie McGinn restored the Avalanche’s four-goal lead when he put PA Parenteau’s cross-ice feed past Neuvirth just 21 seconds after Fehr’s goal.
The Capitals set a season-high with 41 shots, but could only muster one goal and only have four goals in their last three games. Losers of four of their first five games for the second straight season, frustration is seemingly mounting.
“Didn’t look like we had any passion in our game tonight,” Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said. “We didn’t get the crowd into it. We made it a boring atmosphere for the fans that were here and as a result, we were flat.
“It’s looking at yourself and wanting to win. It’s about wanting to work hard, wanting to help your teammates out, wanting to win. That’s all it comes down. Our talent level is there. Our effort’s not.”