DENVER -- Like a crafty magician or a master chef, professional athletes can be wary when it comes to sharing any of their trade secrets.
At least, that's the approach being taken by Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, whose work with new goalie coach Francois Allaire has been paying off in the preseason.
"I'm working a lot with Francois and I'm trying to do things correctly," Varlamov said. "I can't say what I'm doing [differently]. I don't want to tell everybody how I'm going to play."
After posting a career-best 26 wins in 2011-12, his first season with the Avalanche, Varlamov slumped badly last season during 2012-13 that he and his teammates would just as soon forget.
GAA: 2.61 | SVP: 0.912
Varlamov had some excellent games, but was much too inconsistent while playing behind a porous defense and receiving little offensive support; he faced between 35 and 56 shots eight times and the Avalanche averaged 2.09 goals in his starts, the second-lowest total in the NHL for a goalie. (The New Jersey Devils
averaged 1.84 goals for Johan Hedberg
Varlamov went 11-21-3 with three shutouts and a 3.02 goals-against average, and the Avalanche finished with the second-worst record (16-25-7) in the League.
Now, with Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy as his coach and Allaire, whose previous pupils included Roy in Montreal and current Colorado backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Anaheim, Varlamov is seeking to rebound and put an end to the Avalanche's three-season playoff drought.
So far, so good. In two preseason games against the Ducks, Varlamov combined to stop 59 of 62 shots for a .952 save percentage. He made 22 saves in a 2-1 loss at the Pepsi Center last Wednesday -- both goals were scored on power plays -- and 37 saves Sunday in a 2-1 win at Honda Center.
The 25-year-old Russian has been working on his lateral movement and Roy said Varlamov is keeping his glove higher than in the past in an attempt to show shooters less net, but that's about as far as anyone will go regarding changes to Varlamov's technique.
"I can't say anything about my style," Varlamov said. "I won't tell you guys how I'm going to play this year. They want me to play a little bit different and I think it's going to help me in the future."
Varlamov said he is excited about the opportunity to play for Roy, his idol growing up, and to work with Allaire, who was one of the first assistants hired by Roy and Joe Sakic, the Avalanche's executive vice president of hockey operations.
"I'm happy with the changes," he said. "Patrick Roy head coach, Francois my goalie coach, for me it's very important to have those guys. They both know how to win a Stanley Cup. They both know how to help the goalies play better in this League. They have so many experiences."
Varlamov and Giguere, who won the Stanley Cup in 2007 with the Ducks, spent several weeks practicing with Allaire before training camp began.
"I know there are a lot of question marks in Denver regarding Varly [Varlamov]," Roy said. "I drove with him from Quebec to Montreal to see him practice with Francois. He worked for 14 days with Jiggy (Giguere) and Francois in Montreal. He was in Switzerland with Francois for about a week. He is putting in a commitment that makes me believe he deserves a chance to prove himself, and we will give him that chance."
Varlamov said he doesn't feel any extra pressure despite being in the final year of the three-year, $8.5 million contract he signed after the Avalanche acquired him from Washington on July 1, 2011 in exchange for first- and second-round draft picks.
But Varlamov realizes this is an important year for the franchise -- as well as for himself -- with Sakic and Roy running the show. He also is hoping to represent Russia in the 2014 Olympic Games, which are set for his native country in Sochi.
"'I want to play there, for sure," he said. "This is my dream, to play back in Russia in the Olympics. Big season is coming."
Playing for an intense coach and four-time Stanley Cup champion like Roy could lead to plenty of stress for a young goalie, but Varlamov said he is relishing such a rare opportunity.
"I think it's great," he said. "Dreams come true. Now I have two goalie coaches, Francois and Patrick Roy. I'm so excited and can't wait for the season to start. Right now, maybe I'm thinking a little bit too much [on the ice]. Well, maybe not too much, but a little bit more in the game about what I do wrong and what I do right. But it's a good time right now in these preseason games. Training camp is going good."
Varlamov seems more relaxed than his two previous seasons in Colorado, in part because his English has gotten so much better.
"I feel more comfortable, for sure," he said. "I know the guys better right now. I've been on this team for two years. Of course I feel more comfortable. My English is getting better, which is good. My English is better, for sure. It helps. It's funny, I learned English in the locker room. First words were bad words. But now I'm starting to pick up English more and more and more. The guys help me a lot."
Roy said he is pleased with what he's seen of Varlamov (Giguere has yet to play in a preseason game) and said he's comfortable with his goalie tandem.
"I've never believed in a No. 1 and a No. 2 goalie," Roy said. "The No. 1 goalie is the one who is playing and the No. 2 goalie is the one who is sitting on the bench. Jiggy will be a good partner to Varly. I already spoke a lot to Jiggy. I want him to share his experience. He will do it and I will do it as well.
"Varly's been working really hard and we really want to make sure that he'll be ready for our first game," Roy said. "We're going to need a great start [to the season] from him, no doubt about it."