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Avs' Varlamov faces team as Caps come to Denver

by Corey Masisak /

CAPITALS (16-13-1) at AVALANCHE (14-17-1)


LAST 10: Washington 4-6-0; Colorado 5-5-0

Season Series: This is the only meeting of the season. Washington has won the past two contests in Denver, including a 6-1 victory in Dec. 2009. Colorado won 3-2 at Verizon Center in the lone meeting last season.

Big Story: Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov will face his former team for the first time since being traded to the Avalanche in July.

Team Scope:

Capitals: Washington has shown glimpses of a revival under new coach Dale Hunter, but the Capitals have yet to gain any real momentum since he replaced Bruce Boudreau. They did defeat Winnipeg 1-0 at MTS Centre on Thursday, but that came after being outclassed at home by a Philadelphia team missing its two best players.

Alex Ovechkin had the decisive goal in the waning moments against the Jets. He hasn't begun to dominate games like he once did, but the two-time MVP is closer to his previous form than he was a couple of weeks ago.

Avalanche: It has been a perplexing December for the Avalanche. They are undefeated at Pepsi Center, with wins against current playoff teams Detroit, San Jose and St. Louis. They've also dropped all four contests away from home.

Colorado was humbled by three losses in Western Canada by a combined 13-3 margin, and the Avalanche also blew a two-goal lead at San Jose in a 5-4 loss on Thursday.

"It hurts right now, no question," coach Joe Sacco said after the loss to San Jose. "We all feel frustrated by the outcome."

Who's Hot: Nicklas Backstrom has five points in the past four games for the Capitals. He has scored a goal in five of the team's past six wins and assisted on Ovechkin's goal Thursday. … Ryan O'Reilly was the "other guy" who stuck with the Avalanche from the 2009 Entry Draft along with No. 3 overall pick Matt Duchene, but O'Reilly has been Colorado's best player of late. He has five goals in the past eight games, and he leads the Avalanche with 23 points this season.

Injury Report: Defenseman Mike Green is expected to join the team in Denver after going to see a specialist. He has played one game since Oct. 22 because of ankle and groin injuries. Forward Matt Hendricks could return from a knee injury against his old team, while Jay Beagle remains out with a concussion. … Colorado has four players out with head injuries, including Peter Mueller, Chuck Kobasew, Ryan Wilson and Mark Olver. Ryan Jones injured his groin Tuesday and is day-to-day.

Stat Pack: Jeff Schultz is second on the Capitals in goals against per 60 minutes among defensemen behind Karl Alzner at 2.22 and ranks third among the blue line corps in Behind the Net's quality of competition ratings behind Alzner and John Carlson. That said, Schultz has been a healthy scratch the past three games.

Puck Drop: This will be the first chance for Varlamov to prove to general manager George McPhee in person that he made a mistake in trading him to Colorado in July. McPhee earned praise for the return on Varlamov - Colorado's first-round pick in the forthcoming draft and a second-round pick in 2012 or 2013.

The Avalanche are currently the sixth-worst team in the NHL, so that would be a very high pick, and the Capitals could collect another high-end prospect from it. Washington has had its own struggles without Varlamov to help in net. Free agent Tomas Vokoun and incumbent Michal Neuvirth have combined for an .899 save percentage, tied for 25th in the League.

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