As the playoff race intensifies, we find ourselves just 5 games away from the end of the 2011-12 season, and the question is shifting from “Will the Avs make the playoffs?” to “Are they ready to do some damage in the playoffs?”. Last night we saw Semyon Varlamov play some of his best hockey of the season for about 36 minutes, followed by about 2 minutes of his worst. With the Avalanche completely dominating the Canucks at the Pepsi Center, every bit of momentum was lost with a quick flick of Mason Raymond’s wrist. And you almost knew what was coming next; goal. What should have been one of the greatest shutouts of Varlomov’s career (considering the magnitude of the game and his short time in the league), became a complete and total disaster. And I could swear that what I knew was a “1” on the back of his jersey as he skated into the locker room had now become a giant “?”
Why did I feel this way? Because like all of you, my memory of the success of this young organization is filled with players we inherited; Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Ray Borque (later), Mike Ricci, Stephane Yelle, Claude Lemieux, Adam Deadmarsh, and possibly the best goalie who ever lived; Patrick Roy. My memory doesn’t go deeper into the development of those players and recall their struggles; it just recalls their greatest moments. We became spoiled as Avalanche fans without even knowing it. If you think you don’t know what I’m talking about, please refer to your memories of John Elway, and compare to Brian Griese, Jake the snake, and everyone’s most lovable back-up, Tim Tebow. When all you know of an organization is its capability for success, you start to judge talented young players differently and expect more of them. Gone are the days of spending a few years in development before showing the world what you’re capable of. We have Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Cam Newton to thank for that. We are in a new era of sports called the “What have you done for me lately?” era.
As an Avalanche fan, it’s unfortunate to have to look between the pipes at inconsistent, questionable goalies, and remember the times when you knew the Avs only needed one goal to get the win, because Patrick Roy was between the pipes. I think Varlamov has showed us that he has the talent to be that caliber of player, but consistency is the difference between the talented and the great. Don’t mince my words; Varlamov is a very talented and very young goalie. But you can’t argue with the fact that we are spoiled fans in Denver. Whether it’s John Elway, Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, or Terrel Davis, we have had several once-in-a-generation players leave us thirsting for more at the age of their retirement.
Mark my words though, Avalanche fans. If the team can manage to keep their young talent on board (Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, etc), for long enough to get consistent defensive and goalie play, we are in to witness one of the greatest teams the NHL has ever known. We are talking about the most talented group of guys not old enough to buy a beer that have ever played together at a professional level. Although you want to go with the trend of the era, and look for heads to roll if we don’t make the playoffs, please take a moment to grasp the situation. Playoffs or not, we have an incredibly talented group that is confident with their ability and hungry to win. We will discuss change after the season is over.