Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Avalanche defense needs to tighten up before playoffs

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Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov has been a busy man in recent games.

The Russian has been the star of the resurgent  Avs. Several critics picked the Avs to compete for a playoff spot but no one saw them in the spot they are in with 14 games left in the regular season.

While Colorado has been winning games, the number of shots Varlamov sees is becoming concerning. In seven of the last eight games, the Avs have given up over 33 shots. The crazy part about that stat is Colorado won six of those games.

The NHL playoffs are another type of beast though. The game gets tighter and the scores get closer. The Avs are built as an offensive team with stars like Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Paul Stastny Gabe Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. But the team’s defense has to turn it up.

In Sunday’s win against the Ottawa Senators, the Avs showed their weakness in the second period. The Senators had 20 shots in the period with the Avs only had eight. After two periods Colorado had totaled only 12 shots while Varlamov had faced 24. Somehow, Colorado led the game 1-0.

“Varly was very solid. He made some very key saves, especially in that second period,” Avs coach Patrick Roy told the Denver Post. “I thought we had too many turnovers in that second period, and Varly was there for us. He gave us a chance to stay in the game.”

Colorado has plenty of talent on the back line. Erik Johnson is a former No. 1 pick who has really flourished around the coaching of Roy. Tyson Barrie has been the same way. He struggled under the last coaching regime but has been much better this season. Jan Hejda is a strong veteran and Andre Benoit has shown an ability to come up in the clutch. Nick Holden has also played well in spots.

Aside from Hejda, the other four are known for their offensive skills. Johnson has 33 points and Barrie has 29. It is great that the defensemen jump up in the offensive zone but sometimes it has cost the Avs.

Varlamov has been the MVP of the Avs all season and if Colorado is going anywhere in the playoffs he will have to continue to stand on his head. The playoffs can be all about a hot goalie and Varlamov has shown he can get on a roll.

The Avs have been seen as a dangerous team all season. They are full of young and fast talent that can score goals with the best teams in the league. If Colorado tightens up its defense in front of their star goalie the Avs become a team that nobody wants to face.

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisSchmaedeke

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Tags: Colorado Avalanche Erik Johnson Semyon Varlamov Tyson Barrie

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