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Varlamov making Sherman look very smart

by John Kreiser
Semyon Varlamov has been the NHL's best shootout goaltender this season. Thankfully for the Colorado Avalanche, he's shown he can stop pucks before the tiebreaker as well.

Varlamov was on top of his game last week, winning all three of his starts and allowing just seven goals despite facing 106 shots. He capped his week with a virtuoso performance in New York on Saturday, stopping 41 of 42 shots and almost single-handedly beating the Rangers.

The Avs paid a big price -- including their top pick in the 2012 NHL Draft -- to acquire Varlamov from Washington last June. He's making GM Greg Sherman look smart now; Varlamov is one of the reasons the Avs enter Monday's games in eighth place in the West. He's 9-2-0 in his last 11 games and has allowed just 17 goals in that span.

Semyon Varlamov
Goalie - COL
RECORD: 24-20-2
GAA: 2.61 | SVP: 0.912
Five Up -- Five other players who had a good week:

Jose Theodore -- Theodore's goaltending has the Florida Panthers on the verge of ending a playoff drought that dates to 2000. He went 4-0-0 as the Panthers swept a four-game homestand, including a 3-2 shootout win Saturday.

Joe Thornton -- San Jose's captain has picked up his pace to help the Sharks get back on track. He had 2 goals and 6 points as San Jose pulled within a point of eighth place in the West by going 3-0-1 last week.

Ray Whitney
-- The 39-year-old forward's performance for the Phoenix Coyotes continues to belie his age. Whitney had 6 points in four games for the Coyotes last week -- and that doesn't count the shootout winner he scored to give Phoenix a 3-2 win in Edmonton on Sunday that moved them back into seventh place in the West.
Ilya Bryzgalov -- Last week's First Star posted his third straight shutout Tuesday and extended his scoreless streak to 249:43 before allowing a goal. He allowed six goals on 121 shots in four starts last week and is 8-0-1 in his last nine games.

Corey Crawford – Crawford started the week on the bench in Chicago and ended it with three straight wins. He played 44 shutout minutes in relief to beat St. Louis, and then allowed three goals in back-to-back wins against Dallas and Washington.

Five Down -- Five players who are struggling:

Dany Heatley -- Minnesota is free-falling in the Western Conference standings, and Heatley's lack of offense has been a contributing factor. He had a goal in his first game this month but has gone pointless in the next seven while managing only nine shots on goal despite averaging more than 21 minutes of ice time in that span.
Mason Raymond -- Vancouver has been in and out of a funk in the last couple of weeks, and the absence of secondary scoring from players like Raymond is a big reason. Saturday's 4-3 win against Columbus marked the eighth straight game he's played without getting a point.

Mason Raymond
Left Wing - VAN
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 16
SOG: 100 | +/-: 8
T.J. Galiardi -- Jamie McGinn has been lighting it up for Colorado since being acquired from San Jose at the trade deadline. Galiardi, one of two players who went back to the Sharks, has struggled badly. He hasn't had a point with his new team and was a scratch on Saturday.

Evgeni Nabokov
-- Nabokov's goaltending helped the New York Islanders become competitive in January and February; his struggles this month have helped sink any playoff hopes they had. He's 0-2-2 in his last four games, allowing 16 goals in that span.

Erik Johnson -- For all the good things that have been going on with the Avs, the lack of production from Johnson continues to be mystifying. The first pick of the 2006 Entry Draft has gone 12 games without a point.
Injuries, news and notes: What a week for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not only are they 11-0-1 in their last 12 games to climb within a point of the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers, but they got star center Sidney Crosby and top defenseman Kris Letang on Thursday.

Out -- Edmonton's Taylor Hall left Friday's game with a concussion and isn't expected to make this week's road trip. ... Winnipeg's Eric Fehr missed Sunday's game with an upper-body injury. ... Detroit's Johan Franzen missed the Wings' game in San Jose on Saturday with back spasms. ... Montreal defenseman Tomas Kaberle sat out Saturday with an upper-body injury; Scott Gomez missed Montreal's last three games, also with an upper-body injury. ... Blues center Andy McDonald left Thursday's game with a right shoulder injury that's expected to sideline him for a couple of weeks. ... Buffalo's Nathan Gerbe missed the Sabres' games Wednesday and Saturday with an upper-body injury. ... Nashville's Paul Gaustad suffered a hand injury Thursday and was forced to sit out the Predators' weekend games in Southern California. ... Rangers forward Artem Anisimov left Thursday's game with an upper-body injury and didn't play Saturday. ... Toronto forward Nikolai Kulemin is expected to miss the rest of the season with a broken finger. ... Dallas defenseman Sheldon Souray (lower body) and forward Radek Dvorak (ankle) left Wednesday's game with injuries and didn't play Friday. ... Tommy Wingels missed San Jose's last three games with an upper-body injury. ... Philadelphia forward Maxime Talbot is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Defenseman Andreas Lilja is day-to-day with a throat injury. Both players were injured in Saturday's game and sat out Sunday.

Returning -- San Jose forward Martin Havlat returned Thursday after missing 36 games due to a torn hamstring that required surgery. ... Detroit's top center, Pavel Datsyuk, returned Saturday after missing nearly a month following arthroscopic knee surgery. ... The Rangers got defenseman Michael Del Zotto (hip) and forward Ryan Callahan (foot) back for Saturday's game against Colorado. Del Zotto had missed four games and Callahan three. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist also played after sitting two games with the flu. ... Calgary forward Lee Stempniak (ankle) returned Sunday after missing 21 games. ... Buffalo's Andrej Sekera was back in the lineup Saturday after missing five games with pneumonia. ... Florida got a boost Saturday when leading scorer Kris Versteeg returned after missing nine games with a lower-body injury
Martin Havlat
Right Wing - SJS
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 17
SOG: 70 | +/-: 10
and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov played (and scored the shootout winner) after missing 23 games following knee surgery. ... Colorado center Matt Duchene was back in the lineup Thursday after missing just four games with an ankle injury that was expected to keep him out far longer. ... Phoenix got a boost Sunday with the return of center Martin Hanzal (wrist) and forward Radim Vrbata (illness).

Still out -- Washington center Nicklas Backstrom is skating on a daily basis as he works to return to the lineup from the concussion that has kept him out since Jan. 3. ... Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle) tried to skate but had to leave the ice. He's been out since blocking a shot against Colorado on Feb. 25. ... Canucks forward Andrew Ebbett (broken collarbone) is skating again and hopes to play this season. He was injured in early January. ... Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson (finger) is practicing again and could be back by the end of the week. ... Chicago captain Jonathan Toews (upper body) missed his 13th straight game Sunday; he started skating without contact last week but stopped Thursday and there's no timetable for his return.

The week ahead -- Lots and lots of games as the season races towards a conclusion April 7 -- everyone plays at least three times, and 14 teams have four games on the schedule.

Games to watch:

New Jersey at New York Rangers (March 19, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2) -- The Rangers are trying to hang on to first place in the East, while their cross-river rivals are trying to solidify a playoff berth.

Phoenix at Dallas (March 20, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
-- The top spot in the Pacific Division is at stake; the teams opened the week tied with 83 points, but Dallas holds the top spot in the division by virtue of points percentage.

Detroit at New York Rangers (March 21, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2) -- The Wings come to Madison Square Garden for just the third time since March 2003; that's also the last time the Rangers beat Detroit, which has won the last five meetings and 12 of the last 13.

Winnipeg at Washington (March 23)
-- It's a rematch of a game seven days earlier that saw the Jets give their playoff hopes a boost by beating the eighth-place Capitals in Winnipeg.

Boston at Anaheim (March 25) -- The Bruins wrap up a California trip with a visit to a place they don't see often -- it's just their 12th visit ever to Honda Center and just the fourth since October 2003.

Tough week ahead:

Edmonton Oilers -- The Oilers finished a homestand Sunday, and then hit the road for four games in six days, starting Tuesday in Nashville and ending Sunday in Columbus with visits to both Florida teams in between.

St. Louis Blues -- The Blues keep their act on the road again this week, moving from the Southeast to the West Coast with stops in Anaheim and Los Angeles before ending in Phoenix.

Vancouver Canucks -- After spending the first 2.5 weeks of the month at home, the Canucks hit the road this week for games in Minnesota, Chicago, Dallas and Colorado before ending the season with six of seven at home.

Easy week ahead:

Columbus Blue Jackets --
Following their week in Western Canada, the Jackets are back in Ohio for three games, with the last two against teams (Carolina and Edmonton) that are out of the playoff chase.

Philadelphia Flyers -- Philadelphia started a homestand Sunday against Pittsburgh and has visits this week from Florida, Washington and Montreal.

Tampa Bay Lightning --
The Lightning close a seven-game homestand by hosting three teams (Buffalo, Edmonton and the Islanders) that begin the week outside the top eight in their conferences.

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