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Varlamov Steals Show In Avalanche Season Opener

Colorado's goaltender is coming off season-ending hip surgery

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

NEW YORK--The Colorado Avalanche's No. 1 retook his proper place in the blue paint.

Semyon Varlamov returned to the crease on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, playing in his first contest in nearly nine months and looking like his old self while guarding the pipes.

"I feel confident. I made a couple good saves at the beginning of the game, so those gave me confidence," said Varlamov, who last played in an NHL regular-season game on Jan. 17 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Those early stops propelled the goalie to a 37-save performance and helped the Avs pick up a 4-2 victory against the New York Rangers in the season opener.

"It is good to get the win," said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar. "We'll take it one at a time, but I think we're also aware that that was a pretty big night by Varly in order to get us the win."

The Avalanche received early goals from Matt Duchene and Mikko Rantanen before the Rangers rallied with two of their own to knot the game at 2-2 heading into the first intermission. Colorado pulled ahead with Tyson Barrie's marker late in the middle stanza, and Gabriel Landeskog sealed the opening-night victory with an empty-netter.

The story, however, was Varlamov, who missed the final 40 games of the 2016-17 season after having hip surgeries to fix his injured groin. In total, he missed 49 of 50 contests last year due to the ailment.

Varlamov's groin didn't appear to hold him back at the "world's most famous arena," as the Colorado keeper was the reason the team opened the new year 1-0-0.

Video: Semyon Varlamov on the season-opening win

He came up big in key situations, denying several breakaway chances, gobbling up rebounds when he could and squaring up shots effectively. Varlamov stopped all 20 even-strength shots he faced.

"He was lights out," said Avs defenseman Erik Johnson.

Bednar was pleased with what he saw from the goaltender, but he wished Varlamov had an easier shot selection.

"That's what we're hoping he can be," Bednar said. "We don't want to get into a game where we're relying on him every night, but we're going to need him on some of those nights. I think we did a lot of good things. We defended OK, and we were opportunistic at the other end. I don't think we put enough heat on their D on the forecheck, but we did some good things out of our end and then the neutral zone, some of those decisions ended up coming back on us. It was almost like every scoring chance against was something that we were making the wrong decision with the puck."

Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar recaps the win in New York

Varlamov was coming off a strong preseason showing, where he went 3-0-0 in four games and registered a 1.50 goals-against average and .948 save percentage.

He appeared to move well around the crease and wasn't afraid to be physical when opposing players cramped the space in front of him. The Russian netminder was also vocal with his teammates, allowing him to see more outside pucks and make more saves.

Good communication between a goaltender and the defensemen is usually key, and Varlamov certainly played an active role in that against New York. After Mika Zibanejad's second goal with two seconds left in the first period, the Avs netminder talked with Johnson, who tried to block the shot but instead provided a screen.

"We came back into the locker room after the first, and we talked about those outside shots," Varlamov said of his conversation he had with the 6-foot-4 rear guard. "I told him I had to see them if the Rangers are shooting from the blue line. I need to see those shots."

Johnson, a savvy veteran, is aware when it comes to stopping pucks, heed to what your goalie says.

"He was yelling at us if he couldn't see it, 'get out of my way, move.' He's good like that," Johnson said. "We need him talking to us like that. That second one, I got in his way. I was trying to block it, and he said, 'I'll take those, get out of my way.' So listen to your goalie."

Varlamov has started in every opening night for the Avalanche since he joined the team in 2011-12, and his seven consecutive starts in Game 1 of the season ties the franchise record with Patrick Roy.

ALL THE DEBUTS

Two players played in their first NHL game and four others skated in their first NHL opening night in the Avalanche's win over the Rangers.

Forward Alexander Kerfoot and defenseman Andrei Mironov touched National League ice for the first time on Thursday, joining the fraternity of players to compete in the best league in the world.

Kerfoot skated 12:06 while on a line with Matt Duchene and Nail Yakupov, and he picked up his first career point with an assist on Tyson Barrie's tally with 2:10 left in the second period.

Mironov began the game paired on defense with Chris Bigras and recorded two hits and one blocked shot in 11:24 of work. He also saw the inside of an NHL penalty box for the first time after being called for interference late in the opening stanza.

Thursday marked the first opening night contest for Sven Andrighetto, J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost and Bigras. Each player had made their NHL debut at some point over the last four years but was never on the major-league club when the season began, until now.

In addition, Patrik Nemeth, Colin Wilson and Nail Yakupov played their first regular season contests in Avalanche burgundy. Nemeth joined Colorado on Tuesday after being claimed on waivers from the Dallas Stars. The Avs acquired Wilson in a trade on July 1, while Yakupov signed with the team as an unrestricted free agent on July 4.

QUICK SHOTS

  • The Avalanche franchise improved to 21-10-7 all-time on opening night. The team came into the Thursday's game with the second-best record in its first contest of the season with a .635 points percentage.
  • Colorado started the season on the road for just the third time in the last 12 years (also 2012-13 and 2014-15).
  • Nathan MacKinnon and Erik Johnson wore the alternate captain letters for the Avalanche. Both players will wear the "A's" all season.
  • Forward Carl Soderberg and defenseman Nikita Zadorov were the healthy scratches for Colorado.
  • Forward Joe Colborne cleared waivers on Thursday and was reassigned to the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League.
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