I usually don't like to write rip-job columns about goaltenders. To me, it's the hardest position to play in all of sports and there are so many variables as to why goals are scored in hockey. So, while I'm not here to take a bunch of cheap shots on Avalanche goalie Jonathan Bernier, I am going to state this:
It's time for Jared Bednar to start playing his No. 1 guy, Semyon Varlamov, a lot more and let Bernier become more of what a backup goalie should be, which is not seen and heard from very often.
Look, it wasn't all Bernier's fault in the Avalanche's latest loss, 7-2 to Dallas at a sparsely-populated Pepsi Center Sunday night. There were bad plays by teammates before every one of the four goals against him. Trouble is, he only had to face nine shots on net in the 27:52 he played before being yanked from the game in favor of Varly.
Just a bad night, one of those things, with no help from his teammates? Yeah, OK, but...Bernier's saves percentage on the season now stands at .891, which places him 47th among the 50 goalies who have played games in the NHL this season. His goals-against average is 3.24. Weren't we supposed to get a nice upgrade over Calvin Pickard as the backup this year, when the Avs made the decision to sign him to a one-year, $2.5 million free-agent contract?
True, Bernier has played some good games for the Avs this year, including a shutout over these same Stars just 11 days ago. But the numbers are the numbers, and right now Bernier's larger sample size isn't cutting it.
But this column really isn't about Bernier so much as it is about Varlamov. As in: It's time to stop being so cautious with him and start giving him the kind of workload that befits a No. 1 goalie making $5.9 million a season. Entering Sunday, Varlamov had started 14 games this season and Bernier 10.
Now, granted: Varlamov was sick for a week and missed at least two starts out of that probably.
While Varlamov carried just a .906 saves percentage into the contest, with a 3.06 GAA, those numbers are heavily skewed by one game that got away from everyone (a 7-0 loss in Vegas) and a five-goal allowance at Nashville Nov. 18. Overall, Varly has been pretty strong. Not great, not awesome, but pretty strong.
If the Avs' reasoning for not playing Varlamov a lot so far has been, "well, we don't want to risk injury so fast after off-season hip/groin surgery", it's time to let that go. Either he's fully recovered from the surgery or he isn't, and he sure looks healthy and limber enough to my eyes at least.
I asked Bednar whether it is, in fact, time to increase Varlamov's workload, even with several back-to-back games coming up, and he got a little defensive about it.
"When he's healthy, he's on schedule to play his 55 games," Bednar said. "Exactly what we planned. We're not going to start ramping him up and playing him every night when the plan is 55. We said before the year, he'll get more games if he earns them. We evaluate that on a weekly basis, basically."
OK, fair enough. But my argument is that Varlamov should play more than 55 games. Especially, now that Rome is starting to burn a little around here again. I just don't think Bednar and the Avs have the luxury of just playing their No. 2 goalie one out of every three games. One out of four or five should be the ratio I think, but, hey, that's just one man's opinion.
If the Avs truly care about making the playoffs, they need to lean on Varly a little more than they've done so far. Fine, I'll accept the argument that, early on, it didn't make a lot of sense to play him every night, especially after the surgery. You wanted to see how he responded first.
He looks healthier than he has in a long time to me, though, and my argument is the future, not the past. The Avs have not been an overworked team to this point; Their 25 games is tied with San Jose for fewest in the Western Conference. Varlamov should not be feeling tired/overworked at all right now.
Let him play the majority of the games from here on in. He's the top guy, making the big bucks and the Avs are in a critical point of the season. You get the feeling that things could go real bad here again real soon if someone doesn't step up and put a stop to it. Often, that job is up to the goalie.