A Turning Point for Semyon Varlamov?

Cup'pa JoeSemyon Varlamov’s struggles this season have struck me as often being of the mental as opposed to the physical variety. So consider the mental fortitude he displayed in last night’s 11-round shootout victory over the New York Islanders. Beginning with Robbie Schremp’s shootout attempt in round 3 and lasting all the way through Cap-killer Jon Sim’s in round 10, Varlamov stood in his crease and stared straight out at unrelenting must-save scenarios, or else the Caps lost. Eight must-stop situations in a row. He went eight-for-eight.

  • A new media colleague next to me Wednesday night suggested that the Islanders possess quality shooters for shootouts, and I thought many made terrific moves and offered supreme tests of Varlamov’s athleticism throughout the 11 rounds. The Capitals, conversely, I thought seldom directed much difficulty Dwayne Roloson’s way — Eric Fehr even over-skated his shootout attempt. If there’s one image from last night’s shootout you perhaps ought to freeze-frame in your mind as you ponder who will guide the Caps in net next spring, remember Trent Hunter’s wicked wrister in round nine that Varly closed his pads tight on at the last possible moment, his momentum carrying him precariously toward the goal line and defeat. You could hear a collective stress-gasp among the Red Army, their eyes transfixed on Varly’s acrobatic attempt to reverse his body’s momentum back away from defeat. Which he did. How many times over the past five seasons have Capitals’ netminders, from Olie Kolzig to Brent Johnson to Jose Theodore, made initial blocks of tough shootout shots only to have their momentum undue their fleeting heroics? Varly brings an athletic swagger to shootouts the Capitals have never possessed before.
  • For the second consecutive game the Capitals’ line of Tomas Fleischmann, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knubble was the team’s best. Close behind them was Eric Fehr, Mathieu Perreault, and Chris Clark. Ten different Capitals have scored goals since Alexander Ovechkin left the lineup with injury.
  • The Semin Enigma: If you were to try and identify ten of the toughest moves to make with a puck on your stick, Alexander Semin could probably make nine of them effortlessly. In a phone booth. While sleeping. But expect him to execute, consistently, some of hockey’s time-tested, good-for-the-team fundamentals, like getting pucks deep and most especially at least getting shots off on odd-man rushes? Negatory.
  • Is there a compelling economic argument for Semin’s remaining an enigma? By that I mean, he’ll pot you 35 goals in only 60 games, and win you bunches of games with them (while still losing a few others with invisible play/poorly timed penalties), and thereby long lodge himself in hockey’s $5-6 million club; but by virtue of being gooey dessert when fresh fruit salad is the better nutrition, he may well not ever achieve elite salary status. Or put another way: could the Caps possibly afford him were he to evolve into a 40-goal, 40 PIMs, reasonably healthy and disciplined player? I think not. I confess of late I’ve been vascillating wildly when pondering Semin’s possible future here. I see all the shortcomings everyone else does, and yet just when I’m ready to join the pitchfork and torch set against him, I think about the terror role he could play in overtime playoff hockey, when an opposing shutdown D pair is following Ovi everywhere.         
  • Corey Masisak Tweet, mid-game: “The Semin roller coaster is at full speed tonight.”
  • Gabby, on Semin: “He looked like he wanted to play [tonight]. When he wants to play — he coulda had six [goals]. He’s scary-good when he’s motivated.”
  • Speaking of roller coasters, or rather, extreme fright rides, you could say that Jose Theodore is having rebound control issues these days . . . insomuch as most pucks directed his way rocket off his leg pads, out fully 10 or 15 feet smack in the middle of the slot, and onto the waiting tape of opposing forwards, for put-backs that tickle twine soon thereafter with unnerving frequency. 
  • Mathieu Perreault’s passes find his teammates’ tape approximately 99 percent of the time. A player like Perreault at this level needs to have something akin to a third eye on the side of his head, with which to detect menacing predation by the bigger bodies. It’s early still in his transition to the NHL, but I haven’t noticed him getting plastered all that often, and with decent minutes logged each night. Perreault actually believes he’s at an advantage in the NHL versus the American League in this regard. In the A, he told me last night, “there’s a lot of running around” out on the ice, but in the big league he’s noticed greater discipline by players in maintaining their lanes. His hockey mind processes plays much faster than others sharing the sheet with him. This processing accumen applies to checking just as much as it does to playmaking.  
  • Gabby again is asked about an impressive Mathieu Perreault in the postgame: “He’s a real sparkplug. He makes some plays that are pretty nifty. I don’t want to — five games into his NHL career mak[e] comparisons, but there are a lot of small players that have gone side to side very very well and made a great career out of being as competitive as they were. He looks like he’s got that little something that sparks any line he plays on.”
  • I tried to press the coach for a comparison with one of those shifty side-to-side players who enjoyed a long and prosperous NHL career, but he wouldn’t bite. You can tell, however, that he’s pretty excited about Perreault. Last night I was particularly impressed by Perreault’s speed while carrying the puck.
  • Dmitry Chesnokov Tweet, near 10:00 last night: “RDS reports Nylander to Minsk. One of my sources confirmed it earlier tonight. I was waiting for the second source to confirm before breakin.”
This entry was posted in Alexander Semin, Bruce Boudreau, Mathieu Perreault, Michael Nylander, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, NHL, Semyon Varlamov, Washington Capitals and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Turning Point for Semyon Varlamov?

  1. Paul Ipolito says:

    Varlamov struggles? With a 12-1 record? Are you nuts?

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