Pick 'Em: Who to Start in Game 3?

via d.yimg.com

"What does [Bruce] Boudreau do now? He has to go to [Jose] Theodore in Game 3 because you don't put [Simeon] Varlamov into hostile Madison Square Garden for a must-win Game 3. Talk about setting someone up for failure. Boudreau has to go with Theodore[.]" - Puck Daddy's Ross McKeon

"[I]t would make sense to stick with Varlamov, given his performance this afternoon" - Capitals Insider

So it looks as if for the second consecutive news cycle, the story heading into a pivotal playoff game is going to be the goalie, not the forwards' refusal to win battles along the boards or get pucks deep, the Hart winner's almost-stubborn tendency to try to win games all by himself (often successful for the first 82 games of the season, but to the detriment of his team through the first two games of the post-season), the Adams holder's failure to keep up with his counterpart, or the Norris candidate's apparent lack of focus.

But there's nothing so dramatic as a genuine goalie controversy, so we'll indulge, though, frankly, there doesn't appear to be much of one here.

On the substance, Varlamov has obviously been the vastly superior netminder through two games. Further - and contrary to Allan Muir's belittling - this isn't exactly Varly's first rodeo:

But despite his youth, Varlamov has been through the playoff grinder. Last season in Russia he led Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to the deciding game of the K.H.L. playoff finals, which Loko lost to Salavat Yulaev. The Caps, especially the team’s four Russian skaters, know that he has proven himself in a professional postseason.

Sure, Ufa Arena might not be Madison Square Garden, but the "hostile" environment concerns are over-blown, especially for a kid who stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced in his NHL debut in Montreal on Hockey Night in Canada. In fact, here's how Varly fared on the road this season:


GP MIN W L O EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Simeon Varlamov 4 207 3 0 0 0 6 1.74 98 92 .939 0

Granted, three of those four appearances were against lottery teams playing out the string, but expecting him to be rattled just because he's in a loud building whose patrons enjoy tossing around homophobic slurs is more storyline than reality.

On the armchair psychiatry side of the issue, Boudreau has already clearly sent a message to his high-priced veteran netminder that he has no faith in him - thanks for the 32 regular season wins (a dozen of which came in his next start after allowing four or more goals), but we don't think you can get it done now. I disagreed with starting Varlamov in Game 2, but the young Russian did everything that could have been asked of him in that game, and benching him after that in favor of Theodore for Game 3 sends another message - playing time around here isn't based on merit (see also Fleischmann, Tomas).

Simeon Varlamov is the goalie of the future for the Capitals organization. By tapping him to start Game 2, Bruce Boudreau announced that that future is now. No point in living in the past on Monday night.

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