Maple Leafs-Avalanche Preview
With Semyon Varlamov locked in, the Colorado Avalanche are starting to play like they did two seasons ago.
The resurgent Avalanche aim for their longest win streak since that outstanding 2013-14 campaign in Monday night's matchup with a Toronto Maple Leafs team that's recently raised its play as well.
Colorado (17-16-1) has won five straight, its best run since a six-game streak March 25-April 4, 2014, during a season in which it tied a franchise record with 52 victories.
Varlamov played a large part in that success and has been instrumental in the current surge, yielding six goals in winning six consecutive starts.
He's allowed two or fewer goals in each game of a 7-1-0 stretch, making 39 saves in Saturday's 5-1 home rout of Edmonton.
"Varly is playing so well right now," coach Patrick Roy said. "When you're looking at him, it seems like it is very easy. He seems like he is under control. He's moving well. He sees the puck big. He's in the zone right now. We feed off of him right now. He's the big reason why we're having a good turnaround."
Varlamov will be tested by a Toronto team that's amassed 19 goals during a 3-0-2 stretch that was highlighted by the Leafs' most lopsided win of the season Saturday, 5-0 over Los Angeles. Michael Grabner scored twice while recording a career-high four points and Leo Komarov added two goals and an assist to give him seven points over his last five games.
"I thought Leo was good, I thought Grabs was good and I thought Naz (Kadri) was really competitive," coach Mike Babcock said. "Grabby's so quick that he puts a ton of pressure on those guys and then we end up with the puck a lot more than we would without him."
Jonathan Bernier chipped in with 26 saves to halt an 11-game losing streak to start the season. He had posted a 4.14 GAA over his prior five starts and recently returned from a brief stint in the minors.
''I've had a tough time, but I've been saying it: `If you stick to the program and you work hard, at one point you'll get rewarded,''' he said. ''Definitely that was a big win for myself and for the team."
Toronto (11-13-17) will be relying on Bernier with James Reimer (groin) and rookie Garret Sparks (lower body) sidelined through the Christmas break. Reimer had 34 saves in a 5-1 home win over the Avalanche on Nov. 17, a game Varlamov missed with a groin injury.
The Maple Leafs fell 4-3 in a shootout in their most recent visit to the Pepsi Center on Nov. 6, 2014. They're 5-8-2 on the road this season, scoring one or no goals in seven of those contests.
Colorado has been productive offensively of late as well, scoring 16 times during its streak. The Avalanche converted their lone power-play chance against the Oilers after going 1 for 26 over the previous 10 games.
Jarome Iginla ended a nine-game goal drought Saturday to move within two of becoming the 19th player to reach 600.