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Varlamov, young forwards give Avalanche optimism

by Rick Sadowski /

COLORADO -- The Colorado Avalanche learned last season that a successful start is just as important as a good stretch drive. They finished strong but ended last in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference with 90 points, seven points out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Avalanche are determined to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"Sometimes the reality is you have to go through it," coach Patrick Roy said. "I truly believe our team will be much better because of it. I'm sure everybody is going to take a deep look at what we did and come in with a totally different mindset."

Here are four reasons the Avalanche should be optimistic:

Semyon Varlamov: A Vezina Trophy finalist in 2013-14, Varlamov is an elite goalie capable of winning games even when he doesn't receive adequate defensive support. He had five shutouts last season and his .921 save percentage was 11th best in the NHL. Varlamov missed 16 games because of groin injuries, 15 in the Avalanche's first 31 games, so his ability to stay healthy is a concern. He went 24-14-3 in his final 41 games.

Francois Beauchemin/Erik Johnson: Beauchemin, a left-shooting defenseman, was signed to pair with Johnson. He'll help stabilize a suspect defense, play major minutes and support Johnson, whose career has been on the rise since his 2011 arrival in Colorado. Beauchemin, a proven winner, scored a career-high 11 goals last season with the Anaheim Ducks and will be an asset on the power play. Johnson had 12 goals and 11 assists in the first 47 games and was named to the NHL All-Star Game for the first time. A knee injury prevented him from playing in it, and he missed the final 35 games.

Young forwards ready to rebound: Center Matt Duchene, left wing Gabriel Landeskog and right wing Nathan MacKinnon are too talented to experience another disappointing season. Duchene (21 goals, 55 points) had two fewer goals and 15 fewer points than in 2013-14. He went 12 games without a goal in one stretch and scored three goals in 17 games in another. Landeskog (23 goals, 58 points) had three fewer goals and seven fewer points, but he came on strong at the end. He had goal slumps of 14 and 11 games. MacKinnon (14 goals, 38 points) had 10 fewer goals and 25 fewer points than in his Calder Trophy season. He went 16, 13 and 10 games without a goal. MacKinnon was starting to round into form when he sustained a broken foot and missed the final 18 games.

Better health: The Avalanche set a franchise record with 495 man-games lost to injury and illness, many of them to significant personnel. "We had a lot of adversity," Duchene said. "There were a lot of times where you're like, 'Wow, maybe it's not meant to be.'" Aside from Varlamov, Johnson and MacKinnon, center Jesse Winchester missed the entire season after sustaining a concussion in a preseason game; left wing Jamie McGinn (since traded to the Buffalo Sabres) missed 63 games and underwent back surgery; and center John Mitchell (head, leg) and defenseman Brad Stuart (hamstring) each missed 16 games. The Avalanche also lost rookie forwards Borna Rendulic (37 games, broken leg) and Dennis Everberg (10 games, shoulder). Forward Patrick Bordeleau missed the first 31 games to recover from back surgery and sustained a season-ending broken kneecap in his first game after being cleared to play.

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