DENVER – Semyon Varlamov won’t face his former Washington Capitals teammates Saturday night because of what Colorado Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said is a “minor back injury,” so Jean-Sebastien Giguere will start in goal at Pepsi Center.
“It happened last game against San Jose (on Thursday),” Sacco said after the pregame skate. “It flared up during the game.”
Varlamov, who allowed three third-period goals in the Avalanche’s 5-4 loss to the Sharks, will dress as the backup.
The 23-year-old Russian had dinner Friday night with some former teammates and said he is “a little bit” disappointed not to get the starting nod.
“I will be backup today and I'm always ready to go on ice and play my game,” he said.
The Avalanche acquired Varlamov’s rights from Washington on July 1 in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in either 2012 or 2013, after which he signed a three-year, $8.5 million contract.
Varlamov has shown flashes of brilliance in an otherwise inconsistent season, posting a 10-13-1 record with a 3.14 goals-against average and .896 save percentage.
“I’m sure he would love to play against the Caps,” Giguere said. “But you have to take the season a game at a time. As a coaching staff, you don't really care much who you're playing and what that involves. It's the nature of the business sometimes."
Giguere will make his ninth start of the season, his second in Colorado’s past 12 games. He has a 4-4 record with a 1.95 goals-against average and .923 save percentage this year. Giguere owns a 3-4-1 career record against Washington with a 2.29 average, but he’s 0-3 with a 3.90 average in his past three starts against them.
Capitals star left wing Alex Ovechkin has scored seven goals against Giguere in five games, while Mike Knuble has six goals in seven games and Alexander Semin three goals in two games.
“Good individual skill on that team,” Sacco said. “They really make you pay for mistakes. If you’re not diligent, if you’re not good with the puck, they’ll make you pay.”
Making matters more difficult, the Avalanche will be without two regular defensemen, Ryan Wilson and Kyle Quincey. Wilson hasn’t played since suffering a head injury on a hit by Vancouver’s Maxim Lapierre on Dec. 6, and Quincey is nursing a groin injury.
“The league obviously looked at it and didn’t think it was worthy of any fine or suspension,” Sacco said of Lapierre’s hit, which sent Wilson face first into the glass. “The unfortunate part is we lose one of our best defensemen and he’s out indefinitely. We don’t know how long it’s going to be. It’s frustrating, of course, to lose one of your top defensemen. There’s always hits around the league where you say, ‘What happened there? Why didn’t he get something?’ But the league does the best they can and we have to live with their decision.”
The Capitals have gone 4-4, with four wins in the past six games, since Dale Hunter replaced Bruce Boudreau as head coach on Nov. 29. They are coming off a 1-0 win in Winnipeg on Thursday behind 26 saves by goalie Michal Neuvirth and a goal by Ovechkin in the third period. Neuvirth will start against Colorado.
“They made a coaching change recently,” Sacco said. “Usually when that happens, the guys tend to have a little more game in them. It’ll be a fun game, a high-energy type of game. They like to skate and we like to skate and push the pace and they like to push the pace. I’m expecting a pretty entertaining game as far as that goes from a fans’ standpoint.”
Hunter was a second-round pick of the Quebec Nordiques, the Avalanche’s predecessors, in 1979 and he played seven seasons with the Nordiques. Hunter spent most of the next 12 seasons with Washington until March 23, 1999 when the Avalanche acquired him in a deadline deal while attempting to make a run at the Stanley Cup.
He had two goals, four assists and 17 penalty minutes in 12 regular-season games with the Avalanche. He added one goal, three assists and 38 penalty minutes in 19 playoff games. The Avalanche lost a seven-game series to Dallas in the Western Conference finals.
Hunter retired following the 1998-99 season, his 19th in the NHL. He finished with 323 goals, 697 assists and 3,565 penalty minutes in 1,407 regular-season games.