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Changes Prove Fruitful For Avs

by Ryan Boulding / Colorado Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy shuffled his lineup ahead of Monday’s matchup with the Arizona Coyotes and the 3-1 victory was proof that his decisions worked out.

Roy returned No. 1 netminder Semyon Varlamov to the crease, commending his work ethic during his absence from the starting role as the reason for the switch. Roy also put forward Blake Comeau with Mikkel Boedker and Nathan MacKinnon and captain Gabriel Landeskog with Carl Soderberg and Shawn Matthias.

Matthias went on to score the first goal of the game, with Soderberg assisting on the play, and Comeau picked up his 21st helper of the year on Matt Duchene’s eventual game-winner on the man advantage in the middle stanza.

“I loved it. I thought they even cycled the puck pretty well, which was good,” the third year bench manager said of their effort. “They did a good job. It gave us four good lines tonight. Not that we didn’t have it before. I think Landy’s playing some good hockey for us. It was nice to have him back with Carl and Shawn, and I thought they played well as well. I thought everybody had a good game.”

The untouched trio of Duchene, Mikhail Grigorenko and Jarome Iginla also had a good outing. Duchene and Grigorenko each picked up a goal and an assist, and Iginla registered a helper as well.

“That was a great goal by Grigo, great hands by him,” Duchene said of the third marker of the match. “His game’s just been skyrocketing. Same with Iggy, but Grigo, he’s a guy that came in, in and out of a lot of lineups the last few years, and his game’s going through the roof right now. He’s making great plays, and you can just see the confidence coming. This kid’s ceiling is really high, so it’s going to be exciting to watch him continue to develop.”

On top of all of that, Varlamov was stellar between the pipes, turning aside 37 shots to pick up his first victory since Feb. 17 against the Montreal Canadiens.

“He was really good. He looked like a No. 1 tonight,” Roy said of the 27-year-old Russian. “He made a couple good saves in the first period where we made a few mistakes there, especially one on that 3-on-2. I think it was against [Antoine] Vermette. He made a phenomenal one there with the pad. He was solid, and that’s the Varly we wanted to see. It was a good thing for him to rest and be ready for this one. Now he needs to be ready for the next one against the Ducks.”

Varlamov faced 11 shots in the first period and Arizona attempted an additional 15 that went wide or were blocked, allowing the goalie to acclimate to the game relatively quickly.

“I felt comfortable, confident today,” Varlamov said after the win. “For me, it was really important to start this game strong, make a couple good saves because last game was a tough game for me against Minnesota. I’ve been waiting for this game. I’ve been working really hard, preparing myself mentally and physically. I think the game was good. I played well today. It’s so much easier to play when we’re scoring first, and it’s easy to play with the lead.”

Varlamov made his fair share of stops, including on multiple odd-man rushes, to keep the Avs ahead.

“That was the key. That’s what the team expects from us, from me and [backup Calvin Pickard] right now; come up with the big saves when they need it,” he said.

“He was great. We have so much confidence in him,” added Duchene. “I think a big deal has been made out of maybe what’s happened lately, but when he’s in the net—and Picks too—we know we’re solid there. We know we don’t have a question mark. He’s been our guy since he came to this organization, and he’s just gotten better and better. You’re going to go through ups and downs as an individual and for him it’s no different. He was outstanding for us tonight.”

Third periods have been an area of inconsistency for the Avalanche of late. The team has struggled to close out the final 20 minutes in the last few contests, but that wasn't the case on Monday.

The Avs battled throughout the game, never sitting back or giving the Coyotes an inch to work with.

According to Varlamov, ferocity was the difference between this game and the previous few.

“I [saw] lots of intensity today during the game from the guys. I [saw] energy all 60 minutes. That was the key,” he said. “We played great today. We scored three goals and played really solid. In the third, we played strong too. We didn’t give up that many chances. Sometimes we go in the third and we just give up lots of chances, scoring chances… but today we played solid all three periods.”

“I think we were fine. I think we just knew what we had to do, and I felt like we did it,” Duchene added. “We gave up a few too many shots tonight, but we also had a lot of shots. It was kind of a back-and-forth type game, a lot of pucks on net from both teams. You’ve got to win all types, so maybe we weren’t at our very best tonight, but we were good enough to win and that’s all that matters.”

Roy credited the final-frame adjustment to the players wanting to play well and knowing that they could.

“Our players wanted to do better in that regard in the second and the third, and I thought we did a really good job,” said the coach. “Actually, we cut down on scoring chances in the second and the third. We felt that we gave six or seven, maybe eight in the second and the third total, which was a lot better than in the first period. We were confident going in the third. I thought we did a good job. We defended against a team that put a lot of pucks at the net. Both teams did that very well tonight.

“Overall, I thought we defended pretty well.”


CAREER KIND OF NIGHT

Not one, but two members of the Colorado Avalanche set career highs on Monday night.

With his power-play marker in the second period, 25-year-old center Matt Duchene logged his 28th goal of the season. The tally total is a new career high for the Haliburton, Ontario, native, putting him one ahead of his previous total of 27 set during his sophomore season in the NHL (2010-11).

“It’s been going in a lot since the end of October, and I think the biggest thing for me is I’ve tried to stay as humble as possible and hungry as possible every day,” Duchene said. “Trying to shoot as many pucks as possible and putting the time after practice because you just never know what’s going to make the difference. My role is to provide offense, and that’s what’s expected. That’s what I’ve got to do for the team, and we’ll keep going.”

While the milestone is great, Duchene has his sights set on postseason play.

“I’m not trying to think about it too much,” he admitted. “It would be nice to get two more hopefully this year and get to that 30-goal mark but with that, it’s all about the team. It’s all about me playing my role and doing what I’m capable of doing to help this team get in the playoffs. Part of that’s scoring, so I’ve got to keep doing it. My linemates are playing great and helping me out. We’re going good right now.”

Duchene leads the Avs in goals (28) and points (52) through 68 games.

Not to be outdone, 30-year-old center Carl Soderberg also set a career high. The Swede registered his 33rd assist of the year when he fed Francois Beauchemin, who fired the shot on net that Shawn Matthias finished off.

Soderberg, now in his third full season in the league, sits second on the Avs in helpers (33) and fifth on the club in points (44). This is his third straight campaign with 30 or more assists and 40 or more points.

“He’s been great. He’s obviously a guy who’s come in and really filled a big spot and has played very well,” Duchene said of his teammate. “He’s been great on the penalty kill. He’s been scoring too. He’s a great playmaker, so I’m very happy for him.”


BIGRAS OUT

Rookie defenseman Chris Bigras missed Monday’s contest with a concussion, Roy revealed after the game.

“He didn’t feel good this morning. He has a concussion,” Roy said. “We’ll see how it goes. We’ll play it one day at a time in this case, and we’ll go from there.”

Bigras had played in 23 straight games since making his NHL debut on Jan. 14 versus the New Jersey Devils. He was replaced by rear guard Zach Redmond, who was partnered with newcomer Eric Gelinas.

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