When the 2014-15 season started, Colorado Avalanche prospective goaltender Calvin Pickard had yet to play an NHL game. Now, as the campaign races toward its conclusion, getting the call to come to Colorado is nothing new for the Lake Erie Monsters netminder.
The 22-year-old has 15 games under his belt at the top level of the sport, and will increase that number tonight as he starts against the Los Angeles Kings at Pepsi Center. Pickard's recall, coming in the midst of a three-game win streak that has the Avs in a hunt for a wild card spot, is his fifth of the season.
Goalie - COL
GAA: 2.18 | Sv%: .936
While nerves may have been in abundant supply for Pickard during his first few trips to the NHL, he said that he's starting to become accustomed to the process.
"Coming up here, you know the guys, and everybody treats you so well up here, the staff, the players. It makes you feel comfortable going back and forth because everybody's on the same page," Pickard said after the team's morning skate. "I've had this situation before where I've come in and played. It's nothing new to me. I've just got to go out and do my thing."
Pickard is getting the nod in net tonight against the Kings because Semyon Varlamov has again been sidelined with a groin injury.
Playing against the defending Stanley Cup champions is certainly another remarkable scenario for the kid who got his first start at Bell Centre in Montreal, and he will certainly have his work cut out for him as he stands across the rink from Jonathan Quick, one of the best at his position.
Yet the goaltending situation, the added pressure of needing to beat L.A. to move closer to L.A. in the standings, the fact that the Avalanche is the second highest team in the league with man-games lost to injury, none of that weighs heavy on an Avs team surging down the final miles of the mountain that is the season.
"We've got a really resilient club in here, a lot of character. We've got a lot of guys here that enjoy the pressure, and I don't think you'll see us be affected by it too much," said rear guard Tyson Barrie. "We're a confident team, and we know we're playing good hockey and we're going to keep that going."
It should come as no surprise then that the confidence mentioned also applies to the rookie between the red pipes.
"Every time he's been in, he's played well and given us a chance to win, and that's all you can ask for. Good to see him back," said team captain Gabriel Landeskog. "We haven't seen him in a few weeks."
Having dipped in and out of the Avalanche lineup throughout the year, Pickard has had a glimpse at the various stages the 2014-15 squad has gone through during the campaign. He said he knows the importance of tonight, and wants nothing more to continue building on what the Avs have done recently.
"I get the chance to watch quite a few of the games on TV when I'm down in Cleveland, and the boys are playing very good hockey right now," he said. "I just want to do my part and contribute, and hopefully we can keep this thing rolling."
Pickard said he knows what to expect when the puck drops, and is also smart enough to recognize that there's only one thing he can do to have success against the Kings.
"They've got a lot of skill up front, and definitely on the back end as well. They're good all the way through," he admitted, offering his strategy to finding a way to win. "You can't worry too much about them. I haven't played in this league in a couple months now, and I just want to go out and play my game. I know I'm comfortable doing that at this level."
That's just at his end of the ice. At the other will be Quick, a goalie that stood on his head when these two teams last met in Denver. Quick was a whirling dervish in net, turning aside 42 shots in the 4-1 victory on Feb. 18.
"Last time they were in here, Quick played really well. I think we actually played a really good game and I thought we deserved better, but obviously they're an outstanding club and they seem to do this every year, kind of make a push to get in," said Barrie. "We know they're going to be desperate, and we know we've got to get lots of shots and try to get second opportunities on Quick."
The Avs know that they will have to find a way to beat him if they want to come out with a big two points.
"Last time he was in here, he was outstanding, and we couldn't seem to solve him," Barrie said before offering some ideas on how to convert. "I think it's going to be key to get lots of traffic, and then when we do get shots, to crash the net and try and bang one in.
"The last month, we've been playing really good hockey. We've made some big strides the last month, and we're figuring it out. It's late in the season, but we're playing really good hockey and we know we've got to string together some wins to squeak into the playoffs. We're excited and ready for the challenge."
Tyson Barrie is having himself a season. The offensive forward finished Saturday's game in Columbus tied with Shea Weber for eight place on the NHL's defensive scoring list with 43 points, and has 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in his last eight games, which also includes three separate three-point efforts.
Defense - COL
Goals: 10 | Assists: 33 | Pts: 43
Shots: 119 | +/-: +4
Barrie also became the first Avalanche rear guard to top 40 points in a season since John-Michael Liles finished with 46 in 2010-11.
"It's been a process for me. Last year to this year, [I've] just continued to try to get better and improve. Things have been going well offensively, and I think that has a lot to do with the rest of the guys in here playing really well," Barrie said. "Our power play is getting going, which is nice. That hurt us a little bit this year, so it's nice to see that get going.
"We've been working with the same unit now for about a month, and we're getting familiar with each other. We've all got our jobs, and we've all got the same angle. So it's just getting comfortable with each other, and we're starting to move it around really well."
The Avalanche has scored a power-play goal in three straight games, going 4-for-12 over that span, and will look to continue that run tonight against Los Angeles.
There's a method behind Avs head coach Patrick Roy's decisions in the blue paint. With starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov day-to-day with a groin injury, Roy opted to call up Calvin Pickard from the Lake Erie Monsters, handing him the keys to the game against the Kings.
He made his reasoning clear at his morning press conference.
"The reason why I'm going with Pickard is very simple," Roy explained. "[Reto Berra's] been practicing really well. The three games he came in relief, he did a good job for us, but he hasn't started a game since Nov. 25 to be exact. I just feel it'd be unfair to put him in a situation like this. It's such an important game for us."
Roy said the desire to have Varlamov healthy down the final stretch outweighs the need to win tonight's game.
"It doesn't hurt him, but he doesn't feel like it's solid enough to take a chance, and we don't want to take any chances as well," Roy said of Varlamov's groin injury. "I'd rather see him miss tonight and be ready for [New] Jersey than having him play tonight and losing him for [however long]."
With that in mind, Roy also credits Pickard's substitute play earlier in the year as being paramount in the Avalanche's chances at a playoff berth. Why not allow him to do it again?
"He's one of the reasons why we're in the position today, thinking about still having the chance to make the playoffs," Roy said. "He's a great competitor, and I'm sure he'll do a good job."
Roy also mentioned that forward Joey Hishon will be day-to-day with an elbow injury. Hishon played Sunday night in Minnesota but is not healthy enough to skate tonight.