Calvin Pickard (Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Avalanche are turning to young goaltender Calvin Pickard at a crucial point in their season. Pickard, 23, has played in relief of Semyon Varlamov twice in the past eight games and coach Patrick Roy said the Russian netminder is going through a low in his career right now.
It’s not that every single game of the Avalanche’s season hasn’t been important, but with the Western Conference wild-card race so tight right now, Colorado can ill afford to drop points on a consistent basis.
With that in mind, one would imagine nearly every game from here on out would feature Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov between the pipes. However, after Varlamov allowed three goals on 12 shots in Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to the Wild — a victory which vaulted Minnesota over Colorado and into the final wild-card spot — Avalanche coach Patrick Roy is going with Calvin Pickard against the Florida Panthers in hopes Colorado can get back into a playoff position.
“(Pickard) competes hard,” Roy said of the young goaltender. “It’s all about hard work for him. He has to be proud of himself because he has forced us to keep him, and now he’s having an opportunity to play.”
Some may question the move by Roy, especially with how crucial every point will be from here on out, but it’s hard to disagree with his assessment of his two netminders. Right now, Pickard is giving the Avalanche a better chance to win.
Varlamov’s struggles really began in early February. After he left the team for four games to attend to his off-ice legal matters, Varlamov returned and allowed four goals on 39 shots. Since that game, he has surrendered at least two goals in each of his nine appearances, including three games with three goals against and another three in which he let four pucks through. The Avalanche’s run-and-gun style makes them one of the higher scoring teams in the league — they rank eighth in the league with 175 goals — but it’s tough to rely on scoring three goals per game in a league that’s more defensive minded than ever before.
As for Pickard, the 23-year-old netminder has won two of his past four games while only allowing seven goals through on 94 shots. His .926 save percentage over his past four outings is much better than Varlamov’s .889 save percentage since he returned to the lineup, and twice in the past eight games Pickard has had to come in to clean up for Varlamov.
Roy admitted the team in front of Varlamov didn’t play well in Tuesday’s loss — the goals he allowed came on two breakaways and a 2-on-1 — but the Avalanche bench boss added he would have “loved” to see Varlamov make a big save on one or two of those chances.
“Could he have made a key save in the last two or three games? Yeah,” Roy said. “And that’s how I felt. That’s what I said to Varlamov. There’s some highs and there’s some lows in a career. Right now, he’s having some lows.”
Roy said he spoke with Varlamov and told him it was a tough decision to pull him against Minnesota, but told him to look no further than Central Division-rival Chicago when it comes to the ups and downs a goaltender can face. The Blackhawks had to turn to Scott Darling in the first round against the Predators, Roy pointed out, but it was Corey Crawford who sealed the Stanley Cup victory in the final.
“We know Varlamov is going to come back,” Roy said. “Right now, Pickard just seems more confident than him. I said to Varlamov to work hard in practice, and when you have your chance, you take it.”