WASHINGTON -- Goaltender Semyon Varlamov had something to prove to the team that traded him away three summers ago and he did so in a big way on Saturday night, turning aside 40 of 41 shots against the Washington Capitals to keep the Colorado Avalanche perfect through five games.
Alex Tanguay netted two goals and Nathan MacKinnon scored the first goal of his NHL career in a 5-1 victory for the Avalanche, who are off to their best start since moving from Quebec to Denver 20 years ago.
"We take it one game at a time," first-year coach Patrick Roy said. "We say, 'Why not? Why not us?' We've been working hard every day. We remain humble. We know we are playing against very good teams. This was a tough trip. Toronto, Boston, Wash. This was a good team. I know they don't have the start they want, but (Washington) is a good team."
The Capitals slipped to 1-4-0 this season.
The game began with the backdrop of Varlamov facing the Capitals and his former backup, Michal Neuvirth, for the first time since being traded to Colorado in the summer of 2011.
Upon announcing Neuvirth would be getting his first start of the season, Capitals coach Adam Oates said, "Go get 'em, Neuvy."
But it was Varlamov who looked unbeatable. Included in his 40 stops were six saves against fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin. He has now allowed one goal in each of his four starts this season.
"I think it's so special for the goalie to beat the old team," said Varlamov, who was taken 23rd overall by the Capitals in the 2006 NHL draft.
"It's a lot of glamorous to play here. That was my first game since I left Washington. That's why I think I am too nervous. In the warm-up, my legs were shaking. The whole first period my legs were shaking. But after the first period, I felt so much better."
The Avalanche also received goals from Matt Duchene and Jamie McGinn.
The Capitals had trouble handling the Avs' speedy forwards and lost for the fourth time in five games. Eric Fehr scored their only goal.
"It's about wanting to win," Capitals right winger Troy Brouwer said. "That's all it comes down to, Our talent level's there. Our effort's not."
The Avalanche have been nearly perfect in first periods this season and that trend continued when Tanguay, 33, and Duchene, 22, scored off rushes.
Tanguay netted his first of the season when he snapped a give-and go feed from Gabriel Landeskog off the stick of Washington defenseman John Carlson and past Neuvirth for his first of the season at the 6:42 mark.
Duchene used a burst of speed to get past Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, roofing a shot over Neuvirth from in close for his third goal of the season and a 2-0 lead.
Varlamov stopped fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin twice and kicked away a redirection from Jason Chimera to keep the Caps at bay heading into the first intermission.
The Avs converted on their only power play of the second period when rookie center Nathan MacKinon made it 3-0 with his first career NHL goal.
MacKinnon, 18, snapped a centering pass from Stastny past Neuvirth and celebrated by hurdling himself into the glass.
The Avs made it 4-0 just 1:19 into the third period when Tanguay scored a short-handed goal. Fehr drew the Caps to within three goals, but McGinn restored the lead with his third goal of the season.
Oates said he did not think the game was as lopsided as the score indicated.
"We had 19 shots in the second period alone," he said. "There were moments we made mistakes, but I didn't see effort being a problem. I saw mistakes."
NOTES: The game was the first of the season matching two Hall of Fame players behind their respective benches. Avalanche coach Patrick Roy was inducted in 2006; Capitals coach Adam Oates was enshrined in 2012. ... Capitals rookie D Nate Schmidt made his NHL debut in place of D John Erskine, who is being listed as day to day with an upper-body injury. ... Avalanche C Paul Stastny had two assists, pushing him to 401 points in the NHL, 234 behind his uncle, Anton, and 646 behind his father, Peter. ... The Avalanche are now a perfect 12-for-12 on the penalty kill, one of only two NHL teams (Vancouver Canucks) that has not allowed a power-play goal. ... The Avalanche have outscored opponents 5-0 in the first period this season. The Capitals have allowed a league-high eight goals in the opening 20 minutes. ... The Capitals continue their five-game homestand on Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers. ... The Avalanche return home to face the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.