It’s decision time for the Avalanche. Will rookie Calvin Pickard remain as Semyon Varlamov’s backup or will he be heading back to Lake Erie, where he’d be certain to play a ton and continue his development?
Hoping to find out the answer to that question Sunday during coach Patrick Roy’s media availability. The Avalanche won’t skate again until Monday morning before that night’s game against Montreal.
Pickard, 22, certainly has played well enough to stick around, especially taking into account Reto Berra’s recent struggles. Varlamov has resumed practicing after sustaining a groin injury Nov. 15 against New Jersey and — if he feels well enough — will be activated from injured reserve in time to start against the Canadiens.
If Varlamov is ready to go, Pickard or Berra would have to go because Roy has said he won’t carry three goalies. If Varlamov is not ready, Roy said Pickard would get the start.
Pickard wasn’t tested very much Saturday night in the Avalanche’s 5-2 win against Dallas, but he made 22 saves and has gone 3-1-0 in his past four games with a 1.41 goals-against average and .955 save percentage.
Maybe I’m misinterpreting Roy’s postgame comments, but he sure didn’t sound like Pickard is going to stay.
“Obviously we’re very happy (with Pickard). He’s making things very hard for us in some ways, yes,” Roy said. “But in the end it will be a decision made by (executive vice president and general manager) Joe (Sakic). We’re going to sit down, Joe and I, and we’re going to decide what we’re going to do with the goalie situation. But I have to admit right now he deserves to stay.
“But the decision will be more than that. If Varly is able to play the next game, we want (Pickard) to continue to play. The reason why he is playing so well is he’s been playing a lot of games in Lake Erie. For him, at the age he is, he needs to play a lot of games. This is the best way to develop. Sometimes you need to be patient with players, you have to let them play games.”
Pickard, whose parents got to see him play in Denver for the first time, said the situation is out of his control, that all he can do is play his best and make it difficult for the Avalanche to send him back.
“I can’t worry about that stuff, I just want to go out whenever I get an opportunity and play my game and get more comfortable,” he said. “It’s totally out of my control.”
Does he believe he’s capable of playing well at the NHL level on a consistent basis?
“Definitely these last few games have given me confidence to definitely be able to play and to stick at this level,” he said. “It’s big for me. I’ve played six games now and I feel very comfortable, especially when the team is playing this well. It’s easier to play behind them.”
The Avalanche dominated the Stars, who played Friday and lost to Minnesota in overtime. The Avalanche took the final 14 shots of the second period, outshot them 33-13 through two periods and 47-24 for the game.
“We knew they have a lot of skill up front and I thought our defense shut them down completely and limited their chances,” Pickard said. “We completely dominated them in the second period. There was a span of about 10 minutes where I never touched the puck.”
The Stars took advantage of some sloppy play by the Avalanche and a couple of bounces in a first period that ended in a 2-2 tie.
“There’s bounces that go your way and bounces that don’t go your way,” Pickard said. “The first two goals there were some unfortunate bounces, but there was a time in the third where they had a 2-on-1 and they shot it right through my 5-hole and it went wide the other side, so usually it balances out.”
Center John Mitchell re-aggravated a leg injury in the first period that caused him to miss the previous three games and didn’t return. Center Marc-Andre Cliche left in the second period with an undisclosed injury and returned for one shift in the third.
The Avalanche finally broke through on what had been an inept power play when Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog converted 2:59 apart early in the third period to build a 5-2 lead. Duchene beat goalie Anders Lindback with a shot from the right faceoff dot and Landeskog buried a rebound off an Alex Tanguay shot on a two-man advantage.
The Avalanche had failed to score on their first four power plays of the game, stretching slumps on the power play to 0-for-15 covering parts of six games and 1-for-35 in parts of 12 games.
“It wasn’t for lack of trying, we just weren’t executing,” Duchene said. “It’s been tough. A lot of us haven’t gotten a lot of goals or points on the power play. It kind of shakes things up a little bit. We changed our power play a little bit and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Roy was so frustrated after the Avalanche did so little on their first three power plays, he used Max Talbot, Cliche and Daniel Briere up front on their fourth of the game midway through the second period. They didn’t score but managed four shots on goal.
The message was received.
“Our power play was brutal and Patty put out our fourth line and they did a great job,” Duchene said. “They should have actually scored there.”
Said Roy: “Obviously we were unhappy with the power play. We put those guys out there and they had great chances and gave us the momentum back. It’s kind of funny when you do this and we score two power-play goals right after. I guess it worked this time. It’s the last thing I want to do.”
Duchene set up Tanguay’s tie-breaking goal with 2 minutes remaining in the second period. He carried the puck behind the net and fed Tanguay in the left circle for his eighth goal of the season.
“We outskated them,” Duchene said. “They played (Friday) night and it’s tough coming to altitude and playing against us. We’re a fast team when we’re playing like that. It’s nice to put five on the board like that.”
Tanguay had a goal and two assists, Duchene and Landeskog each had a goal and an assist, and Tyson Barrie had three assists.
The win was the first for the Avalanche in six games (1-3-2) against Central Division opponents. The Stars remained winless (0-6-3) against division teams. The Avalanche have won five of the past seven games overall to move within one game again of .500 at 9-10-5.
“It feels good,” Tanguay said. “We’ve been working extremely hard and we feel like we’re playing better.”
Briere and Jarome Iginla scored first-period goals. Iginla’s goal was the 564th goal of his NHL career, tying him with Joe Nieuwendyk and Mats Sundin for 21st place on the all-time list. Follow @RickS7