Giguere remains elite goalie in Denver

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.