There are times when Colorado Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov decides to take over a game. Whether the Avs need him to or not, he goes rogue and stops anything that comes his way.
That was the case on Sunday as the 26-year-old Russian turned aside 42 shots to help the Avalanche top the St. Louis Blues 3-1.
“Varly was our best player tonight,” head coach Patrick Roy said, “and certainly a big part of our success.”
This time, the Avs needed him. Colorado came out swinging in the first period, putting home two markers, including the eventual game-winning tally, in just under 12 minutes of play.
After that, the ice began to tilt in favor of the Blues, who threw everything on net with the hope of kick-starting a comeback. St. Louis had 17 shots in the second period and 18 in the third as it laid siege to the Avalanche castle, but Varlamov was resolute.
“To me, it was the first period [that was] the key. Both teams were on a back-to-back, and we scored two goals in the first and we had plenty of other chances,” Roy said. “I thought we had a strong first, and like we see a lot in those games when a team is down by two, they’re pressing. That’s why they had a lot of shots on net. They opened up the game and certainly put a lot of pressure on us, but I thought we still defended well. When they had really good chances, obviously our goalie made some great saves.”
Varlamov was outstanding between the pipes and improved his record to 12-3-3 in regular-season contests in which he’s made 40 or more saves, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s also won his last three starts—his first three-game win streak of the season—and five of his last seven, which includes back-to-back Central Division matchups on consecutive nights.
“He had a solid game in Nashville. He had another one tonight,” said Roy. “He’s a strong man. He’s capable of taking a lot of shots, and it was a good example tonight.
“I think he just played a solid game. He had a shutout here two years ago. He seems to play well here, and [it’s] good for us.”
While he can make it look effortless at times, Varlamov admitted that playing two contests in as many nights, let alone winning both, isn’t a piece of cake.
“Winning back-to-back, it’s not easy,” he said. “We did a great job battling, those last two games. I feel like when we’re scoring first, we play with confidence. We play so much better.”
After starting the first month of the season 2-4-1, Colorado’s No. 1 goaltender has roared back into the solid form that typifies his young legacy in the NHL. He went 3-3 in November and has gone 4-1 so far in December, posting a .958 save percentage and a 1.39 goals-against in his last 302:36 of play.
“I know in this league, it’s tough to play without a goalie, and [I was] struggling in October and November,” Varlamov said of his transition back to elite play. “I’ve been working a lot. I never [thought] I couldn’t. I’ve done lots of work with my goalie coach. Francois [Allaire] is always telling me, ‘Never give up, keep going and doing what you’re doing.’
“It’s working right now.”
Avalanche Captain Gabriel Landeskog returned to action on Sunday evening after missing the previous two games due to back spasms. Landeskog became a late scratch last Wednesday after he returned to the rink unable to play prior to the start of the match against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He finished Sunday’s 3-1 win with an assist, four hits and 19:58 of ice time.
Landeskog has missed four games this season, the first two due to a suspension.
Mikhail Grigorenko played in Landeskog’s place on the left wing alongside Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene during the captain’s absence. Grigorenko moved back to center the fourth line with Jack Skille and Cody McLeod on Sunday and made a great pass to Skille to kick off the scoring for Colorado.
The Avalanche entered Sunday’s match having killed off 18 consecutive opposition power plays, including all 16 in December. The stretch, which matched the team’s longest of the season spanning from Oct. 10-21, came to an end in the third period when St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko scored 21 seconds into a hooking penalty on Alex Tanguay.
The Avs now have the 15th-ranked penalty kill in the NHL, boasting an 80.8 percent success rate.