Varlamov, who was making his 55th start of the season, was solid for the Avalanche, which dropped a 3-1 decision to the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.
The 26-year-old Russian goalkeeper’s performance was inspired in the defeat, and he kept the game close until the waning minutes of the third period. Varlamov turned aside 23 shots in the effort, making quite a few acrobatic saves to maintain a one-goal differential until Marian Gaborik put the Kings’ third marker of the night on the board with 1:56 remaining in regulation.
Varlamov has a 104-79-20 record with the Avs, including a 26-20-8 stretch this season. He’s played 264 games overall in his NHL career, posting a 2.55 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage in that span.
Los Angeles scored once in each period, stifling the Avalanche across the board.
Dwight King tallied first, hammering home a Jeff Carter rebound behind a sprawling Varlamov in the opening frame.
Colorado countered in the middle stanza when center Ryan O'Reilly finished off a Gabriel Landeskog attempt that flew up and over Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and into the crease. Landeskog and Alex Tanguay were credited with the assists.
Alec Martinez and Gaborik—in the second and third periods respectively—then scored to put the game out of reach.
The Avs said they knew they were in for a well-executed game from Los Angeles, which was playing for a chance to jump back into the playoff picture.
“They love to get it deep, and they love to get hard on the forecheck. As a D-core, they’re tough to play against,” said Avalanche defenseman Zach Redmond. “They put pucks to the net. They do a bunch of the little stuff that’s tough to defend. They’re always crashing the net hard. As a core, we just need to make sure that we’re getting sticks, getting bodies and eliminating their chances.”
“It’s a team that has a lot of depth. It’s a team that knows how to win, and obviously they protect the puck very well,” said head coach Patrick Roy. “They spend a lot of time in our zone and then we have to defend, and then obviously, it’s tougher for us to generate a lot of offense.”
As a result, the Avs were caught playing the Kings’ desired style of game, resulting in reduced offensive chances the other way. In fact, Colorado finished the match with just 10 shots on goal—a number that seemed low to Roy.
“It’s kind of funny because… Landeskog took a shot on net, the goalie made the save, and then O’Reilly took the rebound and he scored. And you look at the stat sheet, Landeskog has no shots on net tonight,” Roy said. “I guess every rink has their own way to count the number of shots. To me, it’s more [about] how many shots we gave to them. [In a] back-to-back game, they were waiting for us. They’re a desperate team. I thought we defended ourselves very well.
“I’m not making a big deal of the number of shots.”
AVS ELIMINATED FROM PLAYOFF CONTENTION
With a Winnipeg Jets victory over the Vancouver Canucks earlier on Saturday, the Avalanche was officially eliminated from the Western Conference playoff picture. Had the Avs been able to win out through the remaining four games, the most points the club could have finished with was 92.
The Jets’ win put them at 92 points, and with the tiebreaker in their favor and the same number of games left on the slate, the Avs would have been unable to surpass their opponent from the North.
Knowledge of the situation didn’t change anything for Colorado entering Saturday’s contest. The Avs still want to compete every night until to the end of the season.
“It is a little tougher, I guess, to find motivation,” said Redmond of the scenario. “We’re playing for next year at this point, and [for] guys like myself it’s still a good opportunity to show themselves. We shouldn’t try and change what we’re doing, and just take it into next year.”
“I don’t think anybody’s going to pack it in. Our guys have been resilient all year. When [Erik] Johnson was hurt and [Nathan] MacKinnon was hurt nobody packed it in. We worked hard,” said Roy. “We’re going to be in front of our fans. The guys appreciate the support that we have from our fans, and we’re certainly not going to give up because we’re out of the playoffs. We want to continue to improve as a team, and we’re certainly now looking at preparing ourselves as well for next year.”
Roy said he sees this season as part of the learning process for a squad dominated by younger players, and that he believes it will only help them get better moving forward.
“We’re going to benefit from this season. I think it’s a young group, and I think we’re learning a lot. I always said in Denver, it was a process for our team and obviously we always want to go faster in the process, but unfortunately it’s otherwise,” he said. “I think we’re learning, and today I really believe it will be beneficial for this team, what’s going on this year. I think we’re going to learn a lot from it, and it will be—in my opinion—very different in training camp.”
Among the line items to improve upon on next season’s list are the power play and overall game management, two things that Roy said have negatively impacted the team this year.
“I think the power play was one of the [reasons],” said Roy. “We feel that [game management] is also part of the reason why we’re not in the playoffs. We’ve talked about managing our game better, and these are the details that we’re going to look at.”
The one thing out of Colorado’s control was the amount of injuries that accumulated during the course of the campaign. The Avalanche entered Saturday’s contest in Los Angeles with 462 man-games lost to injury thus far, second to only the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“The big reason to me is the injuries. Early in the season, we lost our goalie for 15 games, and after that we lost depth players. They missed a lot of games,” said Roy. “At the end, we lost Johnson for 10 weeks. We lost MacKinnon for five weeks.
“Counting today, right now we’re going to have probably a record year for the Avalanche with the number of injuries. [It] just shows you how affected we’ve been by injuries.”
The silver lining to this is—of course—how well the team responded in the face of such adversity.
“Obviously, we’re all disappointed,” Roy said. “After the season that we had last year, we all wanted to make the playoffs, but at the same time I have to say that I’m happy with the overall effort of our team. I think, all year, how many times did I say to you guys how resilient our players were?”