Semyon Varlamov has been absolutely everything for the Colorado Avalanche over the past two seasons. In a year where the Avalanche allowed more shots on goal than any other team in 2013-2014, he led the league in wins and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. In 2014-2015, Varlamov dealt with injuries but found his form later in the season as the Avalanche fell short of the playoffs but still managed a 90 point campaign. In 2015-2016, Varlamov has started to seem more human, at times just looking exhausted, and it’s hard to blame him. So 2015-2016 will have to be the year that the rest of the Avalanche must carry Varlamov.
More Than Just Shots Against
One of the frequent criticisms to the Avalanche is that they simply allow far too many shots on goal, or some variation of the argument of how bad their fancy stats are. While these are legitimate criticisms, they really don’t get to the core of why this is happening to the Avalanche. While defensive positioning and mistakes have been an issue, the thing that hurts the Avalanche more than anything is their inability to make decent passes, especially when breaking out of their own zone.
The Avalanche currently have to be one of the worst passing teams in the NHL, which is especially detrimental to them since so much of their team identity is team speed through the neutral zone. With their seeming inability to pass effectively, the Avalanche are unable to drive possession because they either just chipping the puck out of the zone and can’t retrieve it fast enough, or are just flat turning the puck over at their blue line. All this does is put more pressure on Varlamov to bail them out, and Varlamov definitely has a history of doing that. At some point, though, the team simply needs to not force him to make up for their inability to execute one of the most basic elements of hockey.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 13, 2016
Don’t Overwork Him
It is no secret exactly how important Varlamov is to the Avalanche, especially in the middle of a playoff run, but it’s finally clear that he is simply getting too tired to be run through the gauntlet of starts the way he has been. This was most apparently on Colorado’s most recent three-game road trip that saw the Avalanche play three games in three and a half days. Varalmov was given the start in all three games, which included a back-to-back setup in games versus Ottawa and Detroit, and then an afternoon start in Buffalo. After the end of the game in Detroit, Varlamov was visibly exhausted, struggling to get up after the shootout, and his exhaustion was obvious as he simply couldn’t see the puck in any way in the start against Buffalo, where he was pulled after allowing the first two shots on goal to go in.
There have been times, especially last season, where playing Varlamov nearly every night really made sense. Last season, the back-up situation was so uncertain that putting Reto Berra in was simply a terrifying thought. Berra has been much better this season, but is currently injured, leaving Calvin Pickard as the back-up. Pickard has done an excellent job in his starts, and has shown that he is a more than capable back-up. I completely understand wanting to go with a goalie when he is in a zone, but keeping Varlamov rested for the stretch run is absolutely paramount, especially if the Avalanche do end up making the playoffs. What good is Varlamov going to be to the team in the playoffs if he’s too exhausted to stand once they start? Patrick Roy has the back-up that he needs, and he has to use him.
Get More Goal Support
The Avalanche are struggling to score goals in a big way right now. Since the All Star Break, they have only scored more than three goals in a game twice, and for a team that has the offensive power the Avalanche do, that is completely unacceptable. Something that isn’t happening for the Avalanche on the scoring front is that there is no depth scoring coming along right now. In the month of February, the only person in the bottom six that has scored anything is Jarome Iginla, and his were power play goals. John Mitchell, Alex Tanguay, Cody McLeod and others are all capable of putting the puck in the net, but they just aren’t doing it. This puts even more pressure on the top players to score goals, which they have been doing, but it’s hard to win when you don’t get any help deeper in the lineup. At the end of the day, the best way to support your goalie is to put more pressure on the opposing goalie, and the Avalanche haven’t been doing a good enough job of that.
The Colorado Avalanche are more than capable of fixing each of these issues, and they have shown that at varying points throughout the season. The big issues is that that still have yet to show that they can consistently address each of these problems at the same time for any meaningful stretch of time. Semyon Varlamov has done an amazing job at covering up for the deficiencies on the team, but the team needs to stand up for themselves now and do a better job supporting Semyon Varlamov.