The Colorado Avalanche are off to a soaring start, even if they pretend they're nothing more than an average team.
Little mind games in order to keep winning them.
"We're playing like we're a .500 hockey team and not a 14-2 team. That's the key," Matt Duchene said. "You stay grounded and you stay humble and hungry."
Semyon Varlamov stopped 33 shots and Nick Holden scored his first NHL goal to break a second-period tie, lifting the Avalanche to a 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals on Sunday night.
Patrick Bordeleau, P.A. Parenteau and Gabriel Landeskog also added goals for the Avalanche, who are off to a franchise-best 14-2 start under new coach Patrick Roy.
Before this season, the best mark through 16 games was 13-3 by the 1994-95 Quebec Nordiques, a season before the organization relocated to Denver.
"They're one of the upper echelon teams, in regard to skating," Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. "They have a quick group."
Not too bad in goaltending, either.
Varlamov once again came up big against his former team, especially on a 5-on-3 early in the final period to preserve the lead. Varlamov also made 40 saves in a 5-1 win at Washington on Oct. 12.
Asked why Varlamov seemed to play so well against Washington, coach Adam Oates said: "He's been in a zone against everybody so far."
The turning point of the game was early in the third period when Cory Sarich was called for hooking to give Washington, the top power play team in the league, a man advantage. And then the Avalanche were whistled for too many men on the ice, setting up a 5-on-3 situation for 56 seconds.
But Varlamov turned back shot after shot, the crowd serenading him with "Varly, Varly" over and over.
"The guys did an unbelievable job for me," Varlamov said. "This team, they're unbelievable right now, on the (penalty kill) especially. I appreciate what they're doing for me. We start this game very well, the guys give me confidence and scored a couple of good goals."
Joel Ward had the lone goal for the Capitals as they lost for a second straight night. Alex Ovechkin thought he had a goal late in the third, but it was disallowed when replay showed he kicked it in with his left skate.
"We played a decent hockey game," Oates said. "We let it get away at the end, but it was a decent game."
Ward tied the game at 1 in the second period when a puck caromed off the boards on a faceoff and right to his stick. With no defenders near him, Ward faked Varlamov one way and then shot it in for his eighth goal of the season.
Just 28 seconds later, Holden gave the Avalanche back the lead when the defenseman took a pass from Landeskog and lined a shot past a screened Braden Holtby.
The Capitals received a scare late in the second when Ovechkin slipped while chasing a puck and crashed into the boards, with Jan Hejda falling on top of him. Ovechkin stayed down on the ice for several minutes, before skating to the bench and dabbing at his head with a towel. He also began yelling at the officials.
"It was a trip. Hit my head in the board," Ovechkin said. "It was a clear two minutes (penalty) and a dangerous play."
Hejda didn't quite see it that way.
"He fell and then I fell over him," Hejda said. "This is an elite (player). I was going to step (on) the brakes."
Colorado got on the board early in the opening period when Cody McLeod lined a backhand shot toward the goal that Bordeleau redirected past Holtby. The officials reviewed the play to see if Bordeleau's stick was below the level of the crossbar and then announced to the crowd the call on the ice stood.
The Capitals struggled to generate much offense in the first period and didn't take their first shot until halfway through, when Ovechkin laced a slap shot that Varlamov turned aside.
Roy has a good thing going in goal these days, with Varlamov and backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere both playing well. The duo entered the game with a league-best 1.79 goals-against average.
"We trust our two goalies," Roy said. "We have a lot of confidence."
NOTES: Unhappy with an offside call, the Capitals argued with officials and were assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which was served by F Jason Chimera. ... The Avalanche were without F Alex Tanguay (knee) and D Ryan Wilson (back). ... Colorado is 8-1 against the Eastern Conference this season.