It’s hard to know which goalie deserves the most credit for the Avalanche’s surprising 5-0 start.
There’s starter Semyon Varlamov, of course, who is 4-0 with a 1.0 goals-against average. In his case, it’s not just an average. He’s given up one goal in each of his starts, including a win at Washington against his former team.
There’s J.S. Giguere, the veteran backup, who pitched a brilliant shutout in Boston against the Bruins in his only start so far. He and Varlamov were named the second star of the week jointly by the NHL after leading the Avs to a 3-0 road trip.
There’s Francois Allaire, the goaltending coach brought in by head coach Patrick Roy after mentoring Roy and Giguere earlier in their careers.
“Francois Allaire help us a lot,” Varlamov said this morning after the Avs worked out at Family Sports Center. “He give us confidence. We work about two hours on the ice when Francois is here. We work with him always about 45 minutes extra. That’s why we stay a little longer. I think the last time I worked like that was five years ago when I had a Finnish goalie coach working with my coach back in Russia.”
And then, of course, there’s Roy himself, the legendary former goaltender and new head coach.
“I think Patrick has been a huge part of it,” said captain Gabriel Landeskog. “Just communicating with us players and talking with us, how we feel and if we need a day off. He’s open for discussion.”
Roy also gets credit from his players for bringing a system that allows for creativity and improvisation on the offensive end alongside accountability on the defensive end. No longer is it only the center expected to get back in transition.
Between the speed of the forwards and the renewed emphasis on pursuit and back-checking, opposing forwards don’t have the time to set up Colorado’s defensemen that they enjoyed too often last year.
“It’s good to be back home with three wins, that’s for sure,” Roy said this morning. “It was a fun trip for our team. Toronto, Boston and Washington, not easy buildings to win hockey games in. I thought we did really well.”
I asked him what he thought the keys to the undefeated road swing were.
“Well, first of all, the goaltending was key. When you’re on the road, you need your goaltenders to be your best player and I thought that was the case in those three road games.
“Toronto, we had more shots on net, I thought we had better chances than they had, especially the start of the game. We missed a few good chances. It could have been a 2-0 game for us right away. And I thought we respond well the rest of the game, we played really well defensively.
“The tracking, in my opinion, has been really solid throughout all those games. Only the second period in Boston, I’d say, and Washington, where we’ve been dominated by the other team. Boston had a strong second period, but we have to expect that. They’re at home, we had a great start, we took a 1-0 lead after one, (more) shots on goal, and then they had to come back. We expect that and that’s what they did.
“Washington was the opposite. I mean, they were 1-3 before the game. I expected them to play a strong game, especially at home. They’re in a five-game home stand. We had a great start. We took a 2-0 lead. And then the second is probably the period we’ve been most dominated — 19 shots and there were a lot of good chances and Varly was extremely good in that.
“Obviously, in that game we were sharp offensively. We scored power play goals and we capitalized on our chances.”
Through the 5-0 start, the Avs’ leading scorer is 18-year Nathan MacKinnon, the first overall pick in this year’s draft. MacKinnon has shown great speed and puck handling along with remarkable maturity in putting up one goal and five assists. His first NHL goal also represented veteran Paul Stastny’s 400th career point, creating a bit of a dilemma as to who should get the puck.
“I tweeted that question myself,” Landeskog said. “That was my first question when I came on the bench. I don’t know. Paulie, I’m sure he’ll get to 500, so I’m sure he’ll get that one. Maybe we’ll give this one to Nate, just to be nice.”
The young Swedish captain also offered a word of warning, however:
“I think we’ve just come together as a group and we’ve realized it’s go time and we need to send a message and we need to start off on the right foot. But saying that, 5-0 is nothing. That can change quickly. I remember my first year, we were 5-1 after six games. Knowing that, we’ve got to stay humble and get ready for the next game.”
That’s been Roy’s message as well.
“Why not, eh?” the first-year coach said. “That’s what we’ve been saying: Why not?
“Let’s play hard. Every day I see our guys come in and practice hard. It makes me think that we’re still in the right direction. There’s nothing else you can ask as a coach. If the guys are focused and doing what you’re asking in practice and then they’re doing the exact same thing (in the games). . . I honestly think tomorrow’s a good test. It’s a four-point game with Dallas. It’s an opportunity for us to win another game.”
Varlamov is scheduled to start the home games Tuesday against Dallas and Thursday against Detroit, the Red Wings’ only visit of the season to the Pepsi Center now that they are in the Eastern Conference. Giguere will start Saturday night at Buffalo.