Colorado on the rise
The Colorado Avalanche has found a spark inside themselves and it has come at the perfect time. The Avalanche entered the New Year knowing they needed to win and losing was no option.
Since December 11th, the Avalanche are 8-3-2 and have moved up in the standing and sit only four points out of a wild card playoff spot. The Avalanche has pulled above .500 for the first time this season and with back to back wins sit two games above, a place they look to stay and build on. Semyon Varlamov looks to finally be healthy after sustaining a groin injury three times this season. He has played eight of the last nine Colorado games and seven straight games going 6-2-0 on those eight games. Semyon Varlamov set a NHL road record with a 54 save shutout against the Chicago Blackhawks and tied for second all-time in a shutout save game behind Ben Scrivens 59 saves last season for Edmonton.
In the last eight games, Varlamov, has an astonishing 1.97 goals against average behind a .940 save percentage. Tonight he will open the Avalanche five game road trip in Washington against Braden Holtby. Semyon was traded from Washington to Colorado in the summer of 2011. At the time, Washington had up and coming Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby and felt that moving the injury prone Varlamov was a good idea, especially for a first and second round pick. Playing in Colorado, Varlamov has only faced his old club twice. His first season with the Avs, Colorado did not travel to Washington nor did they travel to Colorado, the next season was the lockout and Colorado did not face Washington, last season, Varlamov played both games against the Capitals and won the both by scores of 5-1 and 4-1. Braden Holtby was in net for the 4-1 loss. This season, Colorado and Washington have met once and it was in Denver, a 3-2 Avalanche loss with Reto Berra in net. In that game an Alex Ovechkin slap shot road up the stick of Alex Tanguay and fractured his jaw, Tanguay has only played two games without the shield.
A huge bonus for the Avalanche has been the recent play of their scorers. Matt Duchene has points in four of his last five, Landeskog has points in three of his last four games. The old guys, Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla are leading the team with 27 points each. Iginla has 3 goal in his last five and ten goals in his last twenty games compared to his two goals in his first 20. Tanguay has two assists in the last two games. Ryan O'Reilly isn't getting hot, but he is finally producing, he has 2 points in two games and has a quiet 23 points this season. Nathan MacKinnon was the biggest question mark, he hit a sophomore slump and his it like a rocket. He has three points in the last three games, including two goals, last season MacKinnon started off slowly, we will see what the second half brings.
The Colorado Avalanche have sent Reto Berra to Lake Erie on a conditioning assignment and have recalled rookie Calvin Pickard to back up Semyon Varlamov, Pickard is also slated to start on Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Avs are 1-3-1 in the back of back to back games this season while they are 3-0-2 in the first. Reto Berra does not have to clear waivers due to the "conditioning" aspect of the assignment to Lake Erie, the Monsters will not play until Friday against Chicago. Calvin Pickard looks to get himself above the NHL .500 mark against the Hurricanes, he is 6-6-2 in Denver with a .934 save percentage and a 2.21 goals against. His last game was against the Chicago Blackhawks where Pickard allowed 4 goals on 32 shots, it was his second career game vs the Hawks. Calvin Pickard sits first among rookie goalies in save percentage, second in goals against average and is tied for third with six wins.
Erik Johnson is playing the best season of his NHL career. Johnson is now 26 years old, which many say is the prime age for NHL players, this is where you will see most players put their learning together and EJ has done just that. His 12 goals are a career high and puts him on pace to score 20 or more goals this season. His career high twice is 39 points and EJ also has a chance to break that as he is a 22 points currently. Johnson has six goals in eleven games and is on his second 2+ game goal streak, his first was a 4 game goal streak snapped in a shutout loss to St. Louis. In those 11 games though, Johnson only has one assist. Regardless, Johnson's play has seen him voted into this seasons NHL All-Star game and he will be the loan player from the Colorado Avalanche. See the story here.
Semyon Varlamov was named the NHL's second star of the week. In his last three starts he is 3-0-0 and has broken several franchise records to go along side his NHL record. He owns a .962 save percentage and a 1.67 goals against in those three games, for more information on his second star honor, click here.
The starting goals for tonights matchup:
Semyon Varlamov - Colorado - 3-0-0 last three games including 1 shutout - 8th consecutive start
Braden Holtby - Washington - 2-0-1 last three games - 19th consecutive start
Colorado will look for their 4th straight win for the first time this season, two points will move them within two points of the 8th seed Los Angeles Kings who play the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.
Washington could move into third in the Metro with a win, right now they sit in the number one wild card spot or 7th seed with 52 points.
Puck drops at 5pm MNT or 7pm EST tonight in Washington
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