Jonathan Bernier may have been the goalie leading the charge during the Avs’ 10-game winning streak, but Semyon Varlamov isn’t going to give up his net without a fight.

The Russian netminder put on a show for the 14,928 fans that came to the Pepsi Center on Wednesday night. Behind his 44 saves, the Avalanche were able defeat the visiting Montreal Canadiens, 2-0, to win their 10th consecutive game at home, yet it was Varlamov’s first game there since leaving the January 2nd game against the Winnipeg Jets.

The start to the game was relatively slow. Colin Wilson hit the post on an odd-man rush halfway through the first, and that was the best chance the Avs would get in the opening period. Montreal didn’t create a lot until the final minute or two, and Varlamov stood tall to leave the game scoreless heading to the first intermission.

“I thought the first period, we didn’t really give up much, so we were okay defensively, managed the puck okay,” coach Jared Bednar said after the game. “I didn’t think we got after them in the first.  I wanted to get after their ‘D’, put pucks behind them, pressure the puck all over the ice and we didn’t do that.”

In the second, the Avs started to generate more offensively. After killing a penalty early on, they spent almost three consecutive minutes in the offensive zone, wearing down the Habs’ defenders and attempting nine shots. It could have been the best shift of the year for the team. Not soon after, Landeskog would hit the post, making it two on the night for the Avs as they looked for the opening goal.

That momentum would carry the majority of the period, as the Avs controlled the majority of the shot attempts, and with a little over four minutes to go, Carl Soderberg would bury a wraparound attempt to give the Avs the 1-0 lead. A nice keep-in by Nikita Zadorov made the play possible, and a good cycle by A.J. Greer and Gabriel Bourque got the puck to Soderberg, who made no mistake putting it through goaltender Antti Niemi. The Avs would hold that lead going into the third period.

The first half of the third period was an adventure for the Avs.  Two early penalties led to them having to kill a 40-second, 5-on-3 penalty. While they didn’t allow any goals, the minutes following the penalty kill were a bit tense, as Montreal carried the play, coming close to a goal a few times. Coach Bednar was not happy with the way the team played late in the second and in the third.

“As the game went on, through the second period especially, we didn’t have enough guys committed to playing the right way,” Bednar said. “We do get a huge penalty kill in the third period.  I thought the penalty kill was good. I really liked our last eight minutes.”

A late marker by Alexander Kerfoot would give the Avs all the goal support they needed, as the story of the game had to be Varlamov. Making his first start at home in well over a month, he looked a little shaky early, leaving out some rebounds, but he quickly found his form. He was at his best in the third period when Montreal brought the offense, trying to tie the game up.

“I loved his game tonight. You can go back to Carolina when they racked up 50 some shots on us at home, and he won that game for us,” Bednar exclaimed after the win. Varlamov was happy to be back on the Pepsi Center ice.

“It was great to be back at the Pepsi Center and play the game in front of your fans,” Varly said after being named the first star. “We play awesome at home. We have a great record, we got to play like that on the road trip.”

The Avalanche will need more goaltending like that, as four of their next five games will be away from the Pepsi Center. With a little bit of good fortune, they may get a much needed boost from their top scorer Nathan MacKinnon’s return.

Five Observations:

  • Alexander Kerfoot was not happy with himself after the game, despite scoring a goal late. He was benched for a large chunk of the second period after a few turnovers, and probably felt a bit of relief after scoring late.
  • Patrik Nemeth was the king of the long shift tonight, averaging 1:11 per shift. Typically, you want a shift to last around 40 seconds, so to see it that high is not ideal. His several failed clears on the penalty kill likely helped lead to that.
  • A.J. Greer got himself on the scoresheet with an assist in the second period, and had one of his more effective games overall, particularly on the forecheck.
  • Colin Wilson continues to be snake bit, hitting the post early in the game and just missing on a few chances. The line in Kerfoot, Wilson, and Landeskog was the only line to finish above 50% in shot attempts.
  • The majority of the defense struggled in terms of possession, but Nikita Zadorov finished with a defense high 56% shot attempts controlled.  No other defender was above 47%.