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Varlamov plays with Avalanche for first time in eight months

Goalie felt 'good physically' during intrasquad game after hip surgeries eight months ago

by Rick Sadowski / NHL.com Correspondent

DENVER -- It took awhile for Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov to start feeling comfortable Sunday while playing for the first time in eight months.

It didn't matter that he allowed five goals on 28 shots in the Avalanche's Burgundy and White intrasquad game, a 6-2 White win at the University of Denver's Magness Arena.

 

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Varlamov, 29, moved easily in the crease and said he has fully recovered from the hip surgeries he had halfway through last season -- one on each hip, four weeks apart -- to put an end to the frequent groin injuries that have plagued his NHL career.

"I felt good physically," he said. "Even if I give up five goals, of course I'm not happy about it, but physically I feel good. I'm not even tired, so conditioning is good. I just need to get back into game shape. I feel good in practices and it's time to play in the real games.

"I was very excited, actually, even though we were playing against each other, a friendly game. It's exciting to be at the rink like this. This was for me a real game.

For the Avalanche to be competitive, they will need a healthy and effective Varlamov, who was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2013-14 when they finished first in the Central Division.

Last season ended for Varlamov after he allowed five goals on 26 shots in a 6-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 17. He went 6-17-0 with a 3.38 goals-against average and .898 save percentage -- the worst numbers of his nine-season NHL career -- and the Avalanche finished last in the League with 48 points.

"He says he feels good and healthy and strong," coach Jared Bednar said. "We know he's put a lot of work into his conditioning to get back. I expect him to keep progressing. We have to get him back in the net and seeing some pucks in game situations."

Video: CHI@COL: Varlamov makes an aggressive save on Hossa

Varlamov gave up three goals -- two to forward J.T. Compher -- on 11 shots in the first period, but stopped 15 of 17 shots the rest of the way.

"He got hung out to dry on a couple of those goals," Bednar said. "It was important to get him in a game, to start getting him back in game rhythm. It's been a long road to recovery and we only have six exhibition games, so we want to get him in as many games as we can.

"I thought he made some big saves for sure. There were a couple of really good shots that beat him. If they're going to beat you, you want to make sure that they earn them, and I think they did that on a couple of those."

Varlamov started skating in mid-July and took part in voluntary practices a week before training camp started Thursday.

"It was very important to me to start playing," he said. "We were thinking, should I play this game or not? It was good I had a chance to play all 60 minutes because it's been a long time. I felt a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but as the game went I felt more and more comfortable.

"It's important to feel the game, you know? The guys are very fast. It looks like everyone's flying right now on the ice. It takes time for me to get adjusted to the game. I need to play a couple more games before the season starts."

The Avalanche open preseason play against the Vegas Golden Knights at Pepsi Center on Tuesday, but Varlamov said he expects to play against the Dallas Stars on Thursday.

"Everything feels good," he said. "The most important thing is staying healthy and getting back in game shape and being ready for the (Oct. 5) opener (against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden)."

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