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Colorado Avalanche Game Day: Varlamov Returns

The Avalanche will host the Winnipeg Jets with their starter back in net

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

It was a good run with Jonathan Bernier in net. No question.

The Colorado Avalanche got their first real test with newly-signed backup Bernier in net this past week, watching as he made four consecutive starts during Semyon Varlamov’s absence for an illness.

He won two games - including a shutout - and then lost one in regulation and one in a shootout, allowing eight goals on 107 shots against for a collective .925 save percentage during the run.

It was a positive step for the Avalanche, but still - it’s nice to see the consensus starter healthy again, and making an appearance tonight against the Winnipeg Jets.

THE AVALANCHE

STARTING GOALIE: SEMYON VARLAMOV

The Avalanche have been a completely different team this year; Elliotte Friedman spent a good bit of time talking about that with Erik Johnson in his 31 Thoughts this week, although we don’t need player confirmation for what our eyes are clearly showing us.

That being said, the team will spend their next slew of games without captain Gabriel Landeskog, as he’s out for yet another suspension. At this point, he’s well into repeat offender status - and while, in theory, his prior records aren’t ‘considered’ for automatic repeat offender pile-ons for suspensions once 18 months has lapsed, the league is certainly going to factor in how often he’s suspended if he gets in trouble again.

The team will get a chance to see what their young players can do without him, though, and both Tyson Jost and Anton Lindholm are back. That, combined with the return of a healthy Semyon Varlamov, should make the game a lot of fun.

THE JETS

STARTING GOALIE (EXPECTED): CONNOR HELLEBUYCK

The Jets have been hard to really get a read on this season.

On one hand, starter Connor Hellebuyck has been absolutely phenomenal, finally getting his breakout season after struggling last year. His backup, Steve Mason, has started to turn things around as well.

Mason is out with a concussion, though, and Hellebuyck will now likely have to shoulder the majority of their upcoming schedule himself.

When the Jets passed through Arizona, I spoke with head coach Paul Maurice about Mason’s role with the team - and he implied that this upcoming stretch of games was going to be crucial for Mason to help ease Hellebuyck’s workload. That will be key to watch; the Jets have seven games in their next 12 days on the schedule. If it seems like Colorado is jumping out early, they may put rookie Eric Comrie in net in relief to preserve Hellebuyck a bit for the grueling upcoming schedule.

That being said, Colorado hasn’t been exactly powerful against Winnipeg over the last year or so. The Jets are 5-1-1 in their last seven games against Colorado, outscoring them 23-16 in their last eight meetings.

The biggest threat for Winnipeg will be, like Colorado, a powerful top-heavy forward corps. Their first line of Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, and Kyle Connor has been dominant recently, scoring three goals between them and walking away with three points apiece in their game on Monday.

Where the Jets may run into trouble, though, is penalties.

When looking at Connor Hellebuyck’s numbers this year, he’s one of the starting goaltenders forced to spend the most time on the penalty kill - and that’s where his overall numbers slip (at even-strength, he’s one of the league’s best). If the Avalanche can goal Winnipeg into taking some penalties, the game could be theirs to lose.

HOW TO WATCH

The game will be aired at 7:30 PM MST on Altitude TV.