Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov has had a frustrating start to the season. Re-aggravating the groin injury that has plagued him for years and some soft goals in a few of his 13 starts have placed the former Vezina Finalist in the bottom of the NHL’s goaltending statistics and struggling to find himself. After the Nov. 25 loss to the Ottawa Senators, head coach Patrick Roy voiced his frustration with Varalamov’s play saying simply, “He needs to be better.” Now, Varlamov has found himself in a battle to regain his confidence, something that can be as important to a goaltender as the mask that protects his face.

While Varlamov was sitting out during the long road trip, he had to watch his backup, Reto Berra, play well during the first few games of the stretch. This sparked a few trade rumors, as many fans and trade rumor websites were deeming Varlamov expendable. This was another shot to his already damaged confidence. Some pressure may have been relieved after Berra was unable to sustain the high level of play and had to be pulled from the game against the Washington Capitals. Calvin Pickard, the promising young goaltender in the Avalanche system went in to the game to replace Berra. Last season, when Pickard was given his shot, he was impressive and first began the idea that perhaps the Avalanche have room to trade Varlamov. This time, however, Pickard was not as impressive and was sent back to San Antonio the following day in preparation for Varlamov’s return from injured reserve. It was a breath of fresh air for Varly, knowing the job had not been taken from him and he was still the number-one guy, but the damage to his confidence had been done.

Coach Roy has reiterated multiple times this season that Varlamov is the starting goaltender and that will not change. However, we also know that if Berra had continued to play as well as he did at the beginning of the seven-game road trip, then Varly may not have been so reassured.

After the Avalanche played the Ottawa Senators, a game where Varlamov gave up the first goal of the game on a shot that is typically saved by goaltenders at any level, Patrick Roy criticized Varlamov’s play.

Publicly calling out a player and almost blaming the loss on him in the way Patrick Roy did, can do one of two things to an athlete of any sport: 1) Motivate them to perform at a higher level, or 2) bring the athlete’s confidence down to a point where their performance gets worse. For a hockey goaltender, it is more likely to be the latter.

Luckily for Varly, Patrick Roy has made it clear that he still believes in the 28-year-old goalie and is going to stick by him. “He is our number-one goalie and I’m behind him,” Roy said last Friday. He then referenced a time in his playing career with Montreal, where a coach stuck with him and it was beneficial for Roy and the team. Patrick Roy said he told Varlamov that, “I’m with you for the good and the bad and we will find a way to get your game going.”

The two wins against Winnipeg and his coach’s reassurance are certainly going to help Varlamov’s confidence, but there is no question that overcoming the confidence issues is the biggest obstacle he currently faces. It is clear in his play and demeanor that Varlamov is battling self-confidence and feeling the pressure to perform.

“Im building up confidence, you know, I can tell.” Varlamov said after the win Saturday. “I’m going to be honest, I started the season slow, every game for me is like a battle. Every win is huge for me, because after winning everyone is happy, and excited.

“Starting the game with a lead is huge, it’s how we build up the confidence,” he continued. “For me it’s huge.”

Varlamov also commented on the amount of traffic in front of him sometimes, that causes some of the “weak” or “soft” goals. “It’s a big difference between the KHL back in Russia, back in Europe and here in the NHL,” Varlamov told Mile High Sports. “I remember when I played in 2013 in the KHL, every time when a guy was shooting you would see every shot. Here, it is very tough to find the puck. Sometimes the puck goes through three or four players and you still have to try to find the puck. It is your job but it’s very difficult.”

Varlamov is without a doubt working on his confidence and looking to find his game. Nothing will cure his issue better than stringing together a couple more wins, especially the upcoming ones on the road. It’s still too early to say that he has fixed his problem; he will have to beat someone other than Winnipeg to really get going.