Georgiev making most of opportunity to be No. 1 goalie with Avalanche

“I don’t play against goalies. I play against the team,” Georgiev said after making 32 saves in a 4-0 victory for his first shutout with the Colorado Avalanche. “I wanted to get a big game here because I think last time I played here they scored five on me. So, it definitely felt good to get a win like that here.

“No. 8 has been pretty hot against me, so it feels good to get a shutout today.”

No. 8, of course, is Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals forward who is third in NHL history with 789 goals, including two in a 5-1 victory against Georgiev and the New York Rangers to open last season. A July 7 trade sent the 26-year-old from the Rangers to the Avalanche, who were anticipating the departure of Darcy Kuemperthe goalie in the net opposite Georgiev on Saturday.

Kuemper helped the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2001 last season before signing a five-year contract with Washington on July 13. But Colorado hasn’t missed a beat in net this season with Georgiev and returning backup Pavel Francouz.

“Unreal, both those guys,” Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon he said. “I wouldn’t say they’re competing against each other. I think they’re supporting each other and they’re just playing great hockey between the two of them.”

Georgiev has played in 11 of Colorado’s 16 games and is 8-2-1 with a 2.45 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and one shutout. Francouz is 2-3-0 with a 2.42 GAA and .925 save percentage in five games.

After Francouz made 46 saves in a 3-2 overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, Georgiev followed up by making 14 saves in the first period Saturday to hold the Avalanche in the game until they took a 1-0 lead on Cale Makar‘s 5-on-3 power-play goal with 20.2 seconds remaining in the first.

Both goalies’ contributions have been important while Colorado (10-5-1) plays through a slew of injuries, including to forwards Gabriel Landeskog (arthroscopic knee surgery) Valeri Nichushkin (ankle surgery) and Darren Helm (hip) and defenseman Bowen Bryram (lower body) and Samuel Girard (lower body).

“I think ‘Georgi’ got out of the gates really good,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “He’s been looking good and sharp. He’s been giving us a chance to win on a nightly basis. We had a slow schedule, so he played a lot, tried to get him up and running and get him in tune with our team. Now , ‘Frankie’ has been in the net here and as our schedule picks up, he’s going to play a little bit more. So, we’ve got a real good balance there.”

Georgiev was 15-10-2 with a 2.92 GAA, .898 save percentage and two shutouts in 33 regular-season games (28 starts) backing up Igor Shesterkin for the Rangers last season. He also made two relief appearances for New York in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, allowing two goals on 31 shots (.935 save percentage).

But with Shesterkin, the Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goalie last season, locked in as the Rangers No. 1, Georgiev welcomed a chance to play more often with the Avalanche, who gave up a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and a third-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft in the trade.

Video: [email protected]: Georgiev makes 32 saves in shutout win

Eligible to become a restricted free agent July 13, the 26-year-old signed a three-year contract with the Avalanche on July 10.

“This is where I wanted to be at,” said Georgiev, who was signed by the Rangers as an undrafted free agent in 2017. “And it was really easy for me to want to be here for three years.”

In his sixth NHL season, Georgiev was excited to join a team aiming to repeat as Stanley Cup champion and embraced the challenge of taking on the role Kuemper played last season, when he was 37-12-4 with a 2.54 GAA, .921 save percentage and five shutouts in 57 regular-season games and 10-4 with a 2.57 GAA and .902 save percentage in 16 playoff games.

“You want pressure in hockey, good pressure,” Georgiev said. “You want expectations from yourself and from your team. You kind of put those on yourself as well. It doesn’t matter what others do. You always have a high bar for yourself.”

Georgiev said Francouz has helped ease his transition to the Avalanche, answering any questions he’s had about their system.

“He’s always ready to talk and share about goaltending,” Georgiev. “And the guys play really well, so they’ve made my job much easier, for sure.”

Bednar said Georgiev has adapted faster than Kuemper did last season after he joined the Avalanche in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on July 28, 2021.

“Darcy took a while getting to know our system and where some of the breakdowns might come from,” Bednar said. “Special teams, obviously, penalty kill is a big part of that. As our penalty kill has kind of picked up, Georgi is getting in tune with that as well with all the meetings that we’ve had.”

It’s led to an enjoyable start to the season for Georgiev. Even if posting a shutout against Kuemper did n’t have any added significance, Georgiev acknowledged that his 44-save performance in a 3-2 shootout win against the Rangers in his return to Madison Square Garden on Oct. 25 did.

“Definitely,” he said. “Definitely a big win.”

Already making the most of his first opportunity to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL, Georgiev hopes there are more to come.

“It’s been awesome,” he said. “I try to win every night. The guys are playing awesome, so I feel like every time we have a really, really good chance to get a win here.”

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