The Washington Times - December 19, 2011, 01:46PM

DENVER | Four games of alternating wins and losses. A 4-5 record under Dale Hunter filled with steps forward and backward.

Stop this roller coaster, the Washington Capitals want to get off.


“I think we would’ve gotten off it right away if we knew exactly,” defenseman Karl Alzner said.

Alzner blamed a return to making “dumb little mistakes” for Saturday night’s 2-1 defeat at the Colorado Avalanche, which was particularly disappointing after a hard-earned 1-0 victory Thursday at the Winnipeg Jets.

The things that went wrong in Denver were elements that have been prevalent for the Caps lately.

“I think a lot of times we were doing things on our own,” Alzner said. “And that’s what we were doing when we were losing all our games and we got back to it again.”

Bad habits like not chipping the puck in and forechecking and not clearing the defensive zone efficiently cost the Caps dearly in their most recent loss. An inability to defend aggressively is part of what doomed them in a 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers last week.

“They came in on the forecheck and we weren’t working to get to spots, and we made it pretty difficult,” forward Jeff Halpern said that night. “Every time the puck crossed our blue line, it ended up in our end for 30 seconds at a time. We didn’t work hard to get to spots and we never came out with the puck clean out of our own end. It was like D-zone coverage practice and we weren’t very good at it.”

And, yet, in a 1-0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets, the defense and goaltending showed up, and Alex Ovechkin’s timely goal sealed the two points.

Colorado coach Joe Sacco pointed out that his team was the youngest in the NHL and therefore prone to growing pains. Forward T.J. Galiardi said “inconsistent” was the best word to describe the young Avalanche’s struggles.

“We’re just trying to figure out in here how to bring the same effort every night and bring it for 60 minutes instead of some nights 40, some nights 50. It’s not enough,” he said Saturday. “I think it’s a process and if you keep doing things right, eventually it’ll work out for you.”

They have two games in hand but the Caps are only two points ahead of the Avalanche in mid-December. According to coach Dale Hunter, how to fix this imbalance sounds easy.

“You’ve just to keep working hard,” Hunter said. “It starts in practice: You’ve got to execute in practice and you bring it over to a game.”