Last season, an Achilles’ heel for the Colorado Avalanche was their last line of defense.
To rectify their shaky goaltending situation, the Avs sent first- and second-round draft picks to Washington for netminder Semyon Varlamov. They also signed free-agent veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere to a two-year deal to be the backup and to provide guidance for the young Varlamov.
Somebody apparently forgot to tell the 34-year-old Giguere this is 2011-12, not five or more seasons ago when “Jiggy” was one of the elite between the pipes.
Named the league’s third star of the week just after Christmas, Giguere is 9-5-0 in 16 starts with a .927 save percentage and a 1.96 goals-against average. In 26 games, Varlamov is 13-13-1 with a 2.96 goals-against average and .900 save percentage.
“The situation was perfect for me here. I knew that I wasn’t going to get a No. 1 job somewhere, so the next best-case scenario was to (come here) where I can help him out and push him, too,” Giguere said. “I think it becomes a competition, per se, to get some ice time, but at the same time that’s how you make yourself better. A young guy pushes me because I’ve got to keep up with him, too, every day. If I want to play in this league I’ve got to keep up with a 22-, 23-year old.”
After sports hernia surgery in the offseason, Giguere — who is 5-1 in his past six starts — admits that doubt about his ability had crept into his mind as he reaches the twilight of his career.
“I had a great summer of preparation, which was a key to this season," he said. "My body feels like it hasn’t felt in years. I still have the desire to win and the desire to play. Being a backup right now gives me the chance to be rested when I play and take care of my body.
“I think I’ve been trying to give the team a chance to win every time I play. I’m just hoping that it’s going to keep going until the end of the year that way.”
Giguere was in classic form Saturday in a New Year’s Eve return to Anaheim, stopping 18 of 20 shots to get the win. He received a standing ovation from the Ducks crowd during a TV timeout.
"I was pretty touched," said Giguere, who led the Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup and the Final in 2003. "I wasn’t necessarily expecting a bad reaction, but I’m glad people reacted that way. Obviously, I consider this place my second home — my kids were born here, so it means a lot to me when I come back here."
Now, he’s a time zone away and a key cog in a team whose season has had ups and downs nearly as big as a mountain. Lately those have been positives as Colorado has won eight of nine.
“He’s a big part of our team,” said defenseman Kyle Quincey.
Giguere readily admits his season’s success is not a one-man doing.
“I think we’ve, as a team, been turning things around here," he said. "I think we’ve been playing really well defensively which always helps the goalie. It makes my job much easier when I play. At the end of the day, when you have success, it always comes down to a team effort and that’s what’s been the big key here so far for my season this year.”
Northwest Division notes
• Calgary’s Jarome Iginla needs one goal for 500 in his career. . . . Coach Brent Sutter’s next win will be his 100th guiding the Flames. . . . Strange statistic from Calgary’s 5-3 loss in Nashville on New Year’s Day: Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester was minus-5, on the ice for all five Predators goals. Meanwhile, defenseman Cory Sarich was plus-3, on the ice for all the goals scored by the Flames.
• Colorado improved to 7-0 in shootouts with a win in Los Angeles on Monday.
• Edmonton’s 4-3 win in Chicago on Monday was the Oilers’ first victory four games into a seven-game road trip. It was just the second time in nine games overall that Edmonton scored at least four goals.
• Edmonton and Minnesota have completed their six division games with each other. The Wild won four of the games. . . . Minnesota is 1-6-3 in its past 10 games. . . . Wild right wing Pierre-Marc Bouchard has four goals in his past six games.
• Vancouver left wing Chris Higgins returned to the lineup Monday after missing a three-game road trip with a mysterious hand infection. . . . A Stanley Cup Final rematch is scheduled for Saturday when the Canucks visit Boston.