Alex Ovechkin’s return provided a boost against Avs, but Caps ended up falling short – again

DENVER – Alex Ovechkin is back in the lineup, and the Capitals effort is much improved from the last time they were out. But it wasn’t good enough to take on an illness and injury-plagued lineup or the surge of the Stanley Cup champions on Tuesday.

The Caps trailed by two and couldn’t catch up to Arena, where Niklas Backstrom was a late scratch due to a non-COVID-19 illness, Tom Wilson left after blocking a shot and the Avalanche cruised with a hard-fought 3-2 victory.

Connor Cherry and Ovechkin, and Darcy Comber, who returned to Denver, scored 23 stops for Washington, which will come back from a 1-2-0 three-game trip. Cal McCarrel’s Avalanche-less, meanwhile, earned its sixth straight game and second on the Caps this season.

“It’s unfortunate,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “You go out with the right intentions, and you can’t get the scoreboard to agree with you. But there are things we could have done from a defensive standpoint to toughen him up a little bit.”

After suffering their worst loss of the season, 6-2 in Las Vegas on Saturday, the Caps were determined to be better, and they were. They held the lead over Colorado for long periods and had several chances to tie things up in the final minutes but were unable to score the equalizer as Alexander Georgiev made 37 saves.

Ovechkin hit a one-time home run midway through the third to cut Washington’s deficit to one. It was the captaincy’s ninth goal over Georgiev, but the Avs goalkeeper proved impenetrable from that point on, deflecting the last seven shots he faced.

“It’s difficult, but the players advanced and played well,” said Ovechkin. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get another one, but the level of effort and battle was just too high for us.

“If we’re going to play like this, we’ll win a lot of games.”

Ovechkin, who missed the Vegas game with a lower-body injury, said he wasn’t 100 percent on Tuesday but was good enough to fit in. The 37-year-old skated in 23:32, the highest total among all forwards.

Ovechkin’s return provided an obvious boost. But the caps ended up short – again. Already without Nick Dodd (lower-body injury) and TJ O’Shea, who was back in D.C. for the birth of his fourth child, Backstrom wasn’t good enough to play, and Wilson was forced out of the game in the second period after blocking a shot by Avs defenseman Brad Hunt.

“It’s hard, especially for these two guys,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said of Backstrom and Wilson. “Missing these games, that’s not what you want. You always want to play against that kind of team and in this environment. I hope they come back in the next game. That will be a good game against Pittsburgh (Thursday).”

Laviolette said Wilson, who was shot in the right leg, struggles day in and day out with a lower body injury.

“It was hard to lose his body and his presence,” Laviolette said, adding that Wilson’s departure shortened the bench and forced players like Ovechkin to double-switch, a task made more difficult by Denver’s elevation.

Laviolette singled out Alexi Brotas, Marcus Johansson and Sherry for their solid play. Brutas, who appeared in his first NHL game since January 5, hit three shots at 12:20.

“He came in a minute and gave us really good minutes,” said Laviolette.

Laviolette was less fond of his team’s defensive execution on Avs goals.

“There were things on the goals that I wish we had done better defensively – mistakes,” said Laviolette. “Not from a lack of effort, just details. Maybe one or two in the first period, and then there were a few in the second period.

“Men showed up and attacked, and when you attack in this way, sometimes you leave yourself vulnerable.”

The game got off to a fast start for two teams desperate for points in the standings.

The charged opening minutes were punctuated by a welcome video on the JumboTron for Kuemper and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, both skating in the Ball Arena for the first time since helping the Avs to the Stanley Cup last season. The fans gave them a standing ovation, and the players responded with waves.

When asked about the moment after the match, tears welled up in Kuemper’s eyes.

“It was very difficult,” he said. “It was a lot of mixed feelings, for sure. Very special to be back. It meant a lot.”

The Caps edged Avs 12-9 in the first 20 minutes, but Artturi Lehkonen bet Avs took an early 1-0 lead after a defensive blunder by Washington on their end resulted in a quick transfer opportunity. Nathan McKinnon got the puck caught by Dmitry Orlov, but Colorado’s first linebacker managed to pass it to Lykonen, who cut the net and beat Comber high.

The Caps also failed to convert a pair of first-period power plays and have now scored just once in 22 chances in nine games.

A lucky rebound helped Colorado increase their lead to 2-0 early in the second period, as Curtis McDiarmid’s point shot hit Andrew Cogliano in the pants before evading Kuemper.

“The second start, we didn’t come out to play and they were allowed to score that goal, and that hurt us,” Cherry said. “Overall, 50, 55 minutes into that game we liked the way we played. We dominated the game and had a lot of chances. The goalkeeper made some great saves at the end. It wasn’t the result we wanted, but it’s something we can build going home.” .

Cherry finally helped the Caps break through two minutes later by redirecting Martin Fairvary’s shot past Georgiev. Cherry’s goal, his first in 13 matches, came on his third scoring opportunity of the match. In the first period, he hit the post and stopped at close range.

But Alex Newhawk restored Colorado’s two-goal advantage late in the second period with a rushing goal, during which he slipped past the Cubs defense and hit the post.

The Caps dominated the third period, outscoring the Avs 15-3, and Ovechkin nailed a perfect Dylan Strom cross with 10:16 remaining.

However, Georgiev did not allow them to come any closer.

“It was a very competitive match for both teams,” Kuznetsov said. “They got their goals. We had our push. We made it a one-goal game. At the end, I felt like we got some good looks. We just didn’t score.”

(Photo: Ron Chinoy/USA Today)

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