Can Colorado Avalanche Maintain Hot Start Without Semyon Varlamov?

By Casey Drottar
Rob Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche have become one of the biggest stories of this early NHL season. As of last night, the team will continue grabbing media headlines, but this time for different reasons.

Colorado received early attention for the fact that, behind rookie head coach and team legend Patrick Roy, they surged out of the gate to the tune of a 10-1-0 record. It was a big surprise to many, especially since the Avs are coming off a season in which they finished in dead last in the Western Conference. However, one of the biggest components to their hot start, goalie Semyon Varlamov, may have altered the team’s fortunes last night when he turned himself in to Denver police on charges of kidnapping and domestic violence.

The story has been all over the hockey media this morning, with further pieces elaborating the level of violence Varlamov issued to his girlfriend, to a Russian diplomat claiming his arrest may be an attempt to weaken the country’s national team for the Sochi Olympics (yes, that’s an actual claim).

As Varlamov deals with these disputes – of which his legal team claims he is completely innocent – the Avalanche now has to deal with his indefinite departure. Which leaves one to wonder; can Colorado keep up their early dominance without their starting goalie?

Varlamov had been playing some sparkling hockey during the Avs’ romp through the opening month of the season.  He posted a 7-1-0 record, coupling that with a stellar GAA of 1.76 and a save percentage of .945. It was surprising to many, as he’s been in the league for six seasons now and has hardly looked this dominant before. Though he’s been released from prison on bail, it’s unclear just how long he’ll be out of commission for Colorado.

It appears, now, that the Avalanche will have to rely on backup goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Looking at his early season stats, one would think that’s no big concern, as he’s 3-0-0 with two shutouts. He’s also won a Conn Smythe trophy back in 2003 as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. But therein lays a big question mark. That feat was ten years ago, and Giguere has been in the league since 1997, therefore he has much more tread on his tires than Varlamov. Yes, he’s looked great in his three starts, but does he have the energy left to maintain these stats while seeing his playing time increase?

In addition to this, how does Roy handle everything surrounding the Varlamov arrest? This is something a veteran coach would have some issues handling, especially in regards to keeping the team focused on games instead of the media circus. Roy, however, is only 11 games into his NHL coaching career. Can he ensure his players’ on-ice performance doesn’t slip now that they’re left wondering how long their starting netminder will be missing? Can players like Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and Nathan MacKinnon keep up their offensive success despite the fact they’ve never dealt with such unique adversity?

As you can see, there are loads of questions the Avalanche will need to answer as they deal with the Varlamov incident. It’s certainly not something the team can just shrug off and pretend isn’t happening. Colorado has already shown the league they have the ability to win a lot of hockey games, now it must rally together and show everyone they can handle even the craziest hurdles thrown their way.

Casey Drottar is an NHL writer for Follow him on Twitter @CDrottar19 or “Like” him on Facebook

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