A hot start to the year by Semyon Varlamov raised the prospect of the Avalanche potentially signing the pending unrestricted free agent to a contract extension long before he could hit the open market next July.
Fast forward a few months and whether or not Varlamov is even a viable starter in the NHL anymore has been a topic of discussion around Denver. A sparkling .950 save percentage in October gave way to steady decline, bottoming out in this January stretch where he’s managed to post just a .863 save percentage.
“Yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s been a struggle for me lately and for the team,” Varlamov said. “The thing is we’re still in a good situation. We’re still in the playoffs. It’s amazing because the teams behind us are actually helping us. They’re losing, too, so that’s a good thing. What we have to do, we have to forget what happened in the past. We cannot change things so we move on and then try to stay focused for the rest of the season.”
Varlamov’s poor play reached its nadir last week when he allowed four goals on 15 shots against the Calgary Flames, betraying a dominant performance in front of him and sparking a shouting match on the bench between Nathan MacKinnon and head coach Jared Bednar.
“I need to be more consistent,” Varlamov told BSN Denver. “I wasn’t consistent enough for this team. Every game we’re giving up too much. When you’re giving up three or four goals it’s hard to win. I’ve got to work on that, be more consistent. That’s the thing for the goalies.”
In a position as driven by confidence as goaltender, it’s fair to wonder where Varlamov’s confidence stands as he goes through this rough patch.
“The confidence is there,” Varlamov said. “Nothing changed. I try to work hard every practice to keep the confidence at the same level. Of course, sometimes you don’t feel confident because you keep losing games but what are you going to do? You have to continue to work.”
During practice this morning, Varlamov could be seen talking to himself a bit as he was either making the save or not. At one point, he swallowed a puck and stood up and cheered himself on. When asked about it, Varlamov broke into a rare smile.
“The things [goaltending coach Jussi Parkkila] and I have been working on, they started to work out for me finally,” Varlamov explained. “Like the puck control, not giving up the extra rebound. We’ve been working on that lately because I know how it helps the team when the goalie is keeping the puck more and not giving up extra rebounds in front of you. We’ve been working on that and focusing on that and finally, it started working out for me. So I celebrated those things today.”
The relationship between Varlamov and Parkilla was a key reason the team approached Parkkila for the position last summer when he was hired and after the strong season Varlamov produced last year it looked like a good fit. This year, however, as the results have plummeted from both Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer, questions have been raised about the job Parkkila has been doing. From Varlamov’s seat, however, they’re sticking with what has worked in the past.
“We try to stick with our gameplan,” Varlamov said. We don’t change anything because I believe it works and Jussi believe it works. And Grubi, we’re all on the same page and we all work hard every day and try to improve our game. Like I said, it’s been a struggle lately but it will get better.”
News and Notes
- The lines remained pretty much the same as they have been with two minor changes. Obviously, Tyson Jost was demoted to the AHL yesterday so Gabriel Bourque replaces him on the fourth line. Bourque joins Sheldon Dries and Matt Nieto, who was swapped with Sven Andrighetto. The defense remained the same for today.
- There’s no word yet on which goaltender starts tomorrow afternoon against the Los Angeles Kings.
- Bednar stressed the need for his team to be more consistently competitive in his post-practice presser. He said if the team couldn’t bring a competitive mentality on a consistent basis, nothing else really mattered that much.
- Conor Timmins continues to look like he’s nearing ready to take on the big tests he’ll have to pass in order to get back into actual games. It’s getting closer.