- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 17, 2011

DENVER — This season, fans of the Washington Capitals are allowed to have a second-favorite team: Whoever faces the Colorado Avalanche. The July 1 trade that Semyon Varlamov West brought a first- and a second-round pick back.

So began Avalanche Watch 2012, because where the Caps pick in the first round depends entirely on Colorado’s performance, and, in turn, Varlamov’s.

Washington’s players don’t care much about the pick, as a few didn’t even realize the Caps got the Avalanche’s first-rounder in exchange for the oft-injured 23-year-old goaltender. Two high draft picks seemed like a hefty price at the time, but the Avalanche aren’t worried about that.

“I think it just shows how much we believe in Varly,” forward T.J. Galiardi said. “He’s such a good goaltender, and when he’s on his game he’s one of the best goalies in the league. We’ve got faith in him, and we’re totally fine with the way the trade went, and we’re happy to have him here.”

Colorado general manager Greg Sherman envisioned Varlamov as a franchise goaltender, but the numbers this season haven’t been great: 10-13-1 with a 3.14 goals-against average and .896 save percentage.

“I [started] my season very well, I think. Right now I’m a little bit struggling because my statistics not that well and I’m not happy about my statistics, I’m not happy about my game,” Varlamov said. “NHL season is very long season and you’re always trying to change your game. I just need to keep working and try to play well.”

The Avalanche are the sixth-worst team in the NHL in terms of points going into Saturday night’s matchup with the Caps. But much of that has been about team defensive mistakes and an inability to play well enough in front of Varlamov.

“Sometimes it’s not all about statistics. He’s had some pretty amazing games for us. I think all and all he’s been a pretty bright spot for us this season,” Galiardi said. “Some nights we don’t give him enough support — that’s the thing. He’s getting a ton of shots against, and even the nights when he doesn’t have many shots against, some of them are from prime scoring areas. I wish we could bring a little better support for him. It’s a process and I think we will.”

Galiardi also used the word “inconsistency” to describe the team’s sputtering this season — having a great game one night followed by an unacceptable effort the next.

But coach Joe Sacco believes the process of improvement is ongoing.

“We’re the youngest team in the league and when you have young players, you deal with some ups and downs and you deal with some hurdles along the way,” he said. “It’s a long season. We have played well at times.”

Well on the road to start but now 0-8-1 in their past nine away from home. Plus they weren’t so good at Pepsi Center early on before putting together a streak of four straight victories.

“Those are some of the inconsistencies,” Sacco said. “I think in order to try to correct our problem, we have to play the same way and play out of the same game plan for the whole time — 60 minutes of the game no matter if you’re on the road or at home.”

The Avalanche’s ability to fix those inconsistencies will go a long way toward deciding how soon the Caps are on the clock come draft time in late June.

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