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Avs face big adversity early with goaltender losses

Things go from bad to worse as the Avalanche lose both starting goaltenders.

People wanted to know how Patrick Roy would handle facing some real adversity as a coach. As a player, we all know he'd dig deep, make a quip, and shove the universe right back. How will he respond as the guy behind the bench? We're about to find out.

The Colorado Avalanche were handed an Ivan Drago level right hook yesterday by losing not just one roster goaltender, but both of them. Semyon Varlamov was a post-morning-skate scratch after a groin issue revealed itself to be a full-blown groin injury that necessitated some time on the injured reserve list. No problem, right? That's what back up Reto Berra is for. The organization called up their AHL affiliate and flew the Lake Erie Monsters's starting goalie, Calvin Pickard, to meet the team in Ottawa for a game against the Senators last night.

Pickard was set to man door duty, wearing his hat like a champ as he's done on occasion before. However, two minutes into the game, a mass of humanity bowled over Berra, shoving him into the back of his net and sending him—very slowly—from the game. Young Cal got the nod and manned the net for the remainder of the game. He played solidly for most of the night, but the two soft goals he let in were the team's undoing, especially considering the guys out on the ice with him didn't do what they needed to do for the win.

Avs fans lamented what might happen if Berra was seriously hurt, and now they're finding out. This morning, the Avalanche recalled the team's other goaltending prospect, Sami Aittokallio. Unlike Pickard, Aittokallio has seen NHL action before. His first foray into the bigs came on April 11, 2013, against the Los Angeles Kings. The Finnish netminder saw a ton of rubber to start the game and let in two early goals. But he shut the door on the opposition and ended up stopping 23 of the 25 shots he faced before suffering from leg cramps mid-way through the third period. JS Giguere finished the game. His second appearance came last season in January, where he had dismal showing, allowing three goals on 18 shots for a loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

If the Avalanche had a strong defensive corps, this wouldn't be that big of a problem. Sure, no team is going to dominate the W column when playing its third and fourth string goalies for a week or so. But most teams don't have as porous a defense that graces Colorado's blueline. Much of last year's impressive showing came on the back of the team's goaltending, and to lose that could spell disaster.

It certainly doesn't help that the team's biggest strength, its offense, has been underperforming thus far this season. The Avalanche may let a lot of shots on net and even give up too many goals, but they win games by scoring more than their opponent. That's the M.O. At the end of the game, nothing else matters but those goals. Unfortunately, the Avs cannot find the back of the net. Like at all. They're being outscored by all but one team in the league, averaging only 1.4 goals per game. Only the Florida Panthers have fewer (1.0 G/G).

One might take comfort in the fact that powerhouses and Cup favorites like Boston and St. Louis are also bottom of the barrel in scoring. The difference is that both of those teams have stellar, enviable defenses. The Avs' blueliners can't even touch them.

So where does that leave the Avalanche? Well, it leaves the team in a very tenuous situation, at least for the time being. Semyon Varlamov can return to the line up as early as next Friday when Colorado faces the Vancouver Canucks. One has to wonder how healthy he'll really be that game because, unless one of the youngsters pulls a Jonathan Bernier and gives a stellar performance over the next few games, we're sure to see the Russian back in net to stop what could be utter hemorrhaging in goals against.

Most analysts put the Avalanche at a 90-95-point season before the first puck drop. Without those goaltenders, though, they may be looking at the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes after all. It's a little too early to panic, of course. Don't go ordering a jersey just yet. If the replacements can keep the team at or even just below .500 hockey until the regulars return, we're well in it still.

No matter what happens, today has realized this season's worst nightmare of Avs fans across the world. At least it came early, leaving lots of real estate to make up lost ground. Unfortunately, timing is a double-edged sword. While it would be easy to say, "The Avs need to trade for that defenseman now!" the team would be trading from a position of huge weakness, and few teams are willing to give up worthwhile assets this early. They have no reason to.

So we're stuck watching the train wreck, folks. It should be interesting, to say the least, with the most compelling story being how the recent Jack Adams award winner will handle this gigantic set back. All eyes are on Roy now.