Semyon Varlamov was strong in his return to the net, but the Colorado Avalanche fell 3-0 to the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place on Saturday.
It was the Russian netminder's first game back since he suffered a lower-body injury versus Winnipeg on Jan. 2 in Colorado, and he allowed only two goals on 31 shots.
"[Varlamov was] outstanding," said teammate Matt Nieto. "I think he kept us in the game and gave us a chance, for sure. He has worked tremendously hard over the last few weeks, it's too bad we couldn't get the win for him. But he played unbelievable."
Winnipeg got a chance early when Colorado took a tripping penalty 1:23 into the contest, and the Jets took advantage of the opportunity. Patrik Laine, the No. 2 pick from the 2016 draft, fired a one-timer past Varlamov to give his team the quick lead.
The Avalanche fought back and outshot the Jets 10-6 in the first frame, but Winnipeg took the momentum and had 13 shots in both the second and third periods.
Varlamov made a key save halfway through the second period as the energy of the game was starting to go in the Jets' favor as he denied Nikolaj Ehlers with a pad save on a breakaway chance.
Video: COL@WPG: Varlamov denies Ehlers on breakaway
"I thought Varly played great. It was great to see him back in the net," said Colorado head coach Jared Bednar. "He was our best player tonight."
However, even with solid goaltending, the Avs could not find the back of the net and were shutout for the second time this season.
"[The game] started out pretty good. I thought we did a nice job, I think they only had 11 shots through the first almost 30 minutes. We had a few good opportunities to score some goals and most of them, to be honest, we didn't even make them make a save," said Bednar. "We missed the net on a couple of our best chances and made a mistake on the penalty kill early in the game, and they took a lead.
"I thought the final 30 minutes of the game our execution was poor. We were passing into guys skates and turning the puck over and that led to them creating a bunch of really good scoring chances in the second period, and eventually they took over the game. They got a little more competitive, and we just couldn't find a way to get it done tonight. But, a lot of that was execution, not will or competitiveness. I just think that we weren't sharp with the puck, and we weren't skating well enough."
One of Colorado's best scoring chances came right after Varlamov stopped Ehlers when Nieto and Gabriel Bourque had a 2-on-0 chance but could not capitalize. Nieto carried the puck into the Jets zone and passed it to Bourque for the shot, but it went wide of the net.
"It was a nice pass and it was a pretty good shot, but we missed the net on it," said Bednar. "We didn't force them to make enough saves in there. Some of the ones that he did make, we didn't have enough traffic and I thought they did a better job of executing and getting some pucks and traffic to the net than we did."
The Avs' next chance to create more scoring chances will be Tuesday at Pepsi Center versus the San Jose Sharks before they go on the road for another three games.
Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar after the loss to the Jets
WRAPPING UP THE ROAD TRIP
The contest in Winnipeg marked the end of the Avs' season-long, six-game road trip, a stretch that was broken up by the NHL All-Star Break.
The Avalanche played at the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and St. Louis Blues before the break and ended with visits to the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg.
Colorado finished the trip 2-3-1 with wins in Toronto and Edmonton, and an overtime loss in Vancouver.
"You want to try and make sure you are going .500 on the road," said Bednar. "Even the start to tonight's game, we were ready to start. We were checking and using our legs and doing some good things. It was pretty tight checking, but we created a couple of chances and I would like to see us capitalize on one of them. That continued into the second period but then they came at us a little bit harder and we didn't execute with the puck.
"We just weren't sharp in the second half of the game and then they started to outwork us a little bit too. It's disappointing because this is the swing game on the road trip. We got to be better than we were tonight."
The road swing marked the beginning of a stretch that has Colorado playing 13-of-16 away from Pepsi Center.
"We have to find a way to get the job done on the road," said forward Matt Nieto. "We know we can play at home, we had a good stretch there in December and January. We have a big two points back there [on Tuesday] and then we are back on the road, and we just have to take care of business."
AVS COME HOME FOR ONE-GAME
On Tuesday, the Avalanche returns to Pepsi Center to host the San Jose Sharks for the first of three one-game homestays in February.
"It's a big game. We are only playing one at home and then go on the road for another three," said rookie Alexander Kerfoot. "Every game from now on is critical."
Colorado plays 14 games in the second month of the year and only five of those outings will occur in the Mile High City.