- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 17, 2011

DENVER — There were plenty of things the Washington Capitals could worry about going into Saturday night’s game, from the Colorado Avalanche’s young speed to leading scorer Ryan O’Reilly and impressive rookie Gabriel Landeskog.

Fluky goals against and Cody McLeod didn’t figure to be high on the list of priorities. And yet, those were major reasons why the Caps left Pepsi Center with a 2-1 loss to a young, inconsistent Avalanche team that didn’t a whole lot to dissolve the idea that it’s bound to miss the playoffs yet again.

“We didn’t get much going,” a terse Jeff Halpern said. “We weren’t very good tonight.”

Unfortunately for the now 16-14-1 Caps, that about sums it up. They couldn’t score goals, couldn’t prevent a couple bad ones from the Avalanche and struggled to build any attack when trailing in the third.

Defenseman Karl Alzner said it was a return to some bad habits.

“We went back to making the dumb little mistakes that we weren’t doing the last game at least,” Alzner said. “I think a lot of times we were doing things on our own. And that’s what we were doing when we were losing all our games and we got back to it again tonight.”

Colorado wasn’t particularly good, but Washington fell victim to two deflating goals — and a deflating turn of events for Michal Neuvirth two nights after pitching a shutout against the Winnipeg Jets.

Neuvirth (26 saves) performed well despite fighting the puck for most of the game, but he still allowed a very odd goal to Cody McLeod in the first and then a heartbreaker to Erik Johnson in the second.

McLeod fluttered the puck from the blue line — possibly just an attempt to dump it in — and it floated past Neuvirth.

“Obviously that first goal was horrible,” Neuvirth said. “Yeah. It was in the air and I lost it in the crowd. It was terrible goal.”

Neuvirth kept the Caps in it for much of the night, but the second goal was devastating. Alexander Semin had just tied the score at 1-1 with a trademark wrister and his first goal since Nov. 23 when Johnson’s blast from the point made its way through traffic and into the net.

A possible deflection in front might absolve Neuvirth of blame, but regardless it was a tough break for the Caps with 5:57 left in the second.

“It was bad timing for that goal to go in. It was unfortunate,” Alzner said. “You need to have a few good shifts after that without them scoring a goal, and that’s not what you want to have happen.”

And just when it was time for the Caps to respond themselves, they went 12:08 in the third without a shot, while the Avalanche buzzed and trapped in the neutral zone. Colorado clogging up the ice didn’t help, but the Caps struggled to get their offense going — which hurt on a night when Neuvirth was not as sharp as he was in his previous start.

“It’s not easy when you let bad goal early in the game, but I thought I bounced back,” Neuvirth said. “It’s tough. It’s disappointing loss but it’s tough to win when we score just one goal.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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