Rick Sadowski: Pickard gets another start, could replace Berra as backup

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When Avalanche rookie goalie Calvin Pickard starts for the second time in a row Saturday, his performance against Dallas at the Pepsi Center will have a direct bearing on his future, along with that of struggling Reto Berra.

Coach Patrick Roy said after practice Friday that “if we had to make a decision today, (Pickard) will not go back in the minors” once Semyon Varlamov recovers from his groin injury and is ready to resume playing.

Roy said the Avalanche won’t carry three goalies.

Well, Varlamov took part in the full practice Friday and the plan is for him to start Monday against Montreal.

If Pickard stays as the backup, the Avalanche would have to put Berra on waivers to send him to Lake Erie in the AHL and/or attempt to trade him. Good luck with the latter.

“We’ll see tomorrow, things could change,” Roy said. “Right now (Pickard) deserves to stay.” Erik Johnson (head, neck) and John Mitchell (leg) also practiced and will be in the lineup against the Stars. Paul Carey and Karl Stollery have been sent back to Lake Erie.

Pickard has been excellent in his past three appearances. He made a career-high 42 saves Wednesday in the Avalanche’s 3-2 loss to Chicago; 25 saves after relieving Berra in the first period Tuesday in Arizona when the Avalanche erased a 3-0 deficit in a 4-3 overtime win; and 17 saves last Saturday against Carolina after relieving Berra in the first period when the Avalanche turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 win.

Berra has allowed six goals on 18 shots in his past two games and owns a 2-2-1 record with a 3.57 goals-against average and .883 save percentage. Pickard has stopped 84 of 87 shots in his past three games and has a 2-3-0 record with a 2.24 average and .933 save percentage.

Berra is in the first year of a three-year contract with a $1.45 million salary cap hit that according to capgeek.com would be reduced to $525,000 in the minors. Pickard is in the final year of his entry-level contract with an $813,333 cap hit, though he’d make $67,500 in the minors. The Avalanche acquired Berra last season from Calgary in exchange for a second-round draft pick.

“(Pickard) deserves to play (Saturday), he played so well,” Roy said. “In the two games he came in (replacing Berra) and the game he played in the last game he played against Chicago, he was outstanding. Good for him. We always said to our players, it’s up to them to force us to make decisions and that’s exactly what he’s been doing.”

I asked Roy if this was a situation he couldn’t have anticipated before the season started.

“Certainly I’m going to encourage our players to play well, especially the ones who come from the minors,” he said. “If they come and they play better than our guys, then obviously we have to look at it. This is the situation that happened. I would say it’s too early to make a final decision, but if we had to make a decision today, it was clear.”

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Varlamov will miss his fourth consecutive game with his groin injury, but he said he felt fine while practicing Friday.

“I feel a lot better,” he said. “I didn’t skate for a week and when you’re off the ice for a week you need more time to get that feeling back, your conditioning and your confidence. First day today with the team. I need a couple days more to get ready and play the game.

“I felt good on the ice, I feel strong. I don’t think I’m worried about my injury anymore. I felt good.”

Mitchell missed three games after hurting his leg in practice a week ago. “It isn’t a big deal,” he said. “It’ll be sore for just a little bit, but it’s not something that should keep me out of the games.”

Johnson didn’t play Wednesday after getting hurt in overtime Tuesday when he lowered his head while reaching for the puck and took a big hit from Arizona’s Martin Hanzal. He said he didn’t sustain a concussion but went through the usual protocol for a head injury.

“It was a tough hit,” Johnson said. “I kind of put myself in a bad position reaching for the shot trying to score. Part of me is to blame for that one. I wasn’t 100 percent ready to go for the last game. I was in the rink Wednesday morning, I got worked on and knew I wasn’t able (to play). I just needed another day to get treatment and to recover from that.”

Hanzal wasn’t penalized for the hit, and Daniel Briere’s attempted pass later in overtime deflected off Hanzal’s stick into the net to give the Avalanche the win.

“Everything happens really fast out there and the refs have a tough job as it is,” Johnson said. “They’re not going to call a penalty unless they’re 100 percent sure. Hanzal’s been suspended for something like that before, but if the roles were reversed and you’re lining up a guy for a hit and at the last second he’s leaning forward trying to shoot, it’s tough to readjust your route. You can’t fault him 100 percent either.”

Johnson said he didn’t lose consciousness after landing on the ice. He had “some issues” with his neck and because of that wasn’t sure if he should move while laying on the ice.

“I was able to get up and go off the ice and go through the concussion protocol,” he said. “It was mostly neck related. I took a couple days off and moved my neck around a little to get my range of motion back. Practice was good. I had my head on a swivel and so far, so good.” Follow @RickS7