Varly1

Varly's teammates congratulate him on the win. (Photo credit: Nick Wass)

Varly’s teammates congratulate him on the win. (Photo credit: Nick Wass)

Photo credit: Patrick Smith

In April 2009, a young Russian goalie by the name of Simeon Varlamov started game two of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals after number one netminder Jose Theodore’s poor game one. The 21-year-old didn’t speak passible English, sported a unibrow, and soon became the talk of the NHL.

Varlamov allowed one goal in his first game and posted a shutout the next. In six games versus the New York Rangers, Varlamov allowed a mere seven goals. Though the Caps would eventually lose to the Penguins in game seven of the semifinals, it appeared that Washington had found their goalie of the future. But two years later, Varlamov (with the spelling of his name now changed to Semyon) was unceremoniously sent to the Colorado Avalanche for a pair of draft picks.

Varly had become Washington’s main goalie after Theodore departure, but after battling groin injuries as an explosive, athletic goaltender, he struggled to get back in the crease when healthy. Bruce Boudreau, the Caps coach at the time, seemed to favor fellow 2006 draft pick Michal Neuvirth. With his contract up at the end of the 2011-12 season, Varly wanted to be assured of starting spot. The Caps weren’t interested in that. On July 1, Varlamov was sent to Colorado. He signed a three-year contract with the team the next day.

Now, three years later, Varly was back in Washington to face Neuvirth for the first time. At least in the first round, he came out on top.

“I was so nervous,” Varlamov said in much improved English, as his teammates cheered him on in the background. “Lots of memories to play here. That was my first game since I left Washington, that’s why I think I’m too nervous in warmup. My legs were shaking. All of the first period, my legs shaking.”

Varly’s Avs are off to their best start since the team moved to Colorado. Under new head coach Patrick Roy, one of the best of goalies of all time, Varlamov has posted a 3-0 record and save percentage of .967 this season. Saturday, he recorded 41 saves in as the Avs pummeled the Capitals 5-1.

“It’s so special for the goalie to beat the old team,” he said. “I think I was dying out there today.”

Varlamov struggled in his first two years in Colorado, on an Avalanche team with terrible defense. Last year, his GAA was above three. Varlamov, though, is not only under a new bench boss, but well regarded goalie coach Francois Allaire. What Varly credited most of all, though, was the team’s improved defensive play.

“First of all, it’s all about the coaching staff,” he told me. “It’s all about the team system.”

“So many things change from last year,” Varlamov added. “I think guys play better defensively right now. They help me a lot out there. The guys play better, I play better.”

When I asked Varly about whether he had seen any old friends upon visiting Washington, his mind immediately turned to Caps fans. Their support, he said, had always touched him. After the game, Varlamov offered them a stick statue.

semyon-varlamov-salutes-crowd

“You know what, in the warmup I saw lots of jerseys with my last name,” Varly said. “I want to say to those fans: thank you, thanks for coming. They still remembering. I was excited to see those jerseys.”

It’s still early to judge the trade (which, in the end, was basically Varlamov for Martin Erat), but — at least on Saturday — Colorado had the better end of the deal. Varlamov joked with reporters in the visitor’s locker room at Verizon Center while the Caps sulked about their 1-4 start on the home side. In the starting job he’s always wanted, Varlamov and the Avalanche are 5-0.

“I’m loving it,” Varlamov said.

  • Robert

    Congrats, Varly for getting away from these idiots who run the caps.

  • Chris Cerullo

    Always have loved Varly. Met him before a game and spoke with him for a good 10 minutes as he signed my jersey. Good to see him succeed.

  • Pat

    Good thing we got our prized 4th liner out of that trade.

  • Derek Eklund

    Good for him. Still a fan of his.

  • Glenn Havinoviski

    My wife and I both have signed jerseys from Simeon (I still like that mispelling better), and will always remember how he kicked Pen butts in the Winter Classic 2011.

  • Kirsten

    Go Varly! Great to see how he’s matured both personally and professionally. I watched his post-game interview and was impressed by his much-improved English and even more so by his honesty, class, humbleness, and attitude. He complimented Neuvy, the Caps, his Avs teammates and coaching staff, and even the Caps’ fans. The glove/stick salute to the fans at the end of the game was pure class. I was very happy to see him get first star of the game. All the best to you, Varly!

  • OlietheGoalie

    Yet another great GMGM move…

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Varlamov left him no choice. Wasn’t willing to compete with Neuvy for the starting position and had been nagged by injury after injury.

    The fact we got a 1st and 2nd round pick for a guy that was saying he would rather go to the KHL than play behind Neuvy… The boneheaded Erat trade aside, it was a win/win trade.

  • johnnymorte

    After the performance he gave in the WInter Classic, it was only the injury that prevented him from the playoffs that year. Neuvirth choked real hard against the Bay, and although the D were putrid, Neuvy couldn’t find a save to save his life. GMGM should have given him the top spot and let him know it was his to lose. Oates always talks about how Holtz is ready to play wanting to play every day. Varly has that great quality except he is way ahead in his development right now. Holtz had his blowout game last year against Rangers and Varly had it in ’09 against the Pens. Our goaltending has been average to below average, and the teams we’ve faced have had solid goaltending. That has been the difference so far. Neuvy has not grown at all with this organization. Maybe we need to trade him and one of the great forwards from GM’s all star squad of third-liners and pick up a solid shut down defenseman or a real scoring winger, and bring up Grubbauer. I honestly don’t think he would be any worse of a backup.

  • OlietheGoalie

    And that’s my point – we turned something that could have been great into a silly 4th line rental, where we gave up someone with the name of “Forberg”. Yes, he’s a prospect, but still…

  • Owen Johnson

    Even though Varly is playing great right now, it was still undoubtedly the right move at the time. At that time we had 3 promising young goalies and Varly couldn’t stay healthy, so he was expendable.
    Holtby and Neuvy are still at worst ok goalies. Holtby looked even worse at the beginning of last year and played great down the stretch and Neuvy is a reliable goalie. They’ll turn it around.
    Still, that feeling last night sucked.

  • vtcapsfan99

    Actually Varly never said anything about what those supposed demands were, that was all GMGM and we know he doesn’t always tell the truth. The only thing we know for sure was that Varly was willing to go to the KHL rather than play for the Caps organization again. He himself said he wasn’t afraid of the competition. Obviously there was something about the Caps he didn’t like, but I don’t think we really know because he won’t talk about it. Even Roy yesterday said Varly never said a bad word about the Caps.

    It’s also interesting to note that Varly hasn’t had the repetitive injury issues since he left the Caps and starting working with Steve Saunders in PA. Clearly whatever the Caps were doing with him didn’t work and he needed another approach.

    I’ve been quite impressed with what Allaire has done with Varly this season, especially after the controversy about him and Reimer.