The Thanksgiving Holiday may be behind us, but that's no reason to stop giving thanks for the veritable cornucopia of blessings that Caps fans are enjoying. A three game winning streak. A healthy Semyon Varlamov. And a Slava Malamud interview in Sport-Express with that selfsame healthy Varly after his shutout against Tampa Bay.
In the middle of the first period, Semyon Varlamov went under. Not under a feeling of responsibility, or the realization of just how important this match was for him. Nor with depression or a tide of painful memories. And certainly not under the gun. Varlamov went under the net. Washington Defenseman Tom Poti hit the back side of Varly's goal and tipped it straight onto the goaltender. Then, apparently worried by the absence of a whistle, he pushed on it even more, adroitly snaring Semyon. "Thank you, friend, comrade and experienced veteran", is surely what Varlamov was thinking when he finally recovered from the shock of his unexpected capture.
Fortunately for the goaltender, this proved to be his most difficult moment. Playing in his second match in a row, Varlamov once again was victorious and racked up his first shutout of the season. He appeared totally self-assured, and towards the end of the third period when the end was in sight, there was a standing ovation and the traditional cry of "Var-ly! Var-ly!".
Realizing I should immediately knock on the nearest piece of wood, it should be noted that no obvious signs of injury to Semyon or his groin were detected. He moved fluidly and quickly from side-to-side, he was able to get up and down lightning fast, and he guarded the net gracefully. The only worrisome thing was that due to Tampa's rare visits to his net there was a strong likelihood that Varlamov would doze off, fall down and hurt something. But that never happened. We just had Poti sneaking up on him with a net.
"Finally!" and thus, with a sigh of relief, Varlamov started to share his post-game impressions.
There was no sign of injury with you. It seems you've recovered fully.
"Yeah, that's right. But again it seems to me that as soon as I return to the lineup, the team starts playing differently. Before this, they had some problems and were losing. And now the guys have started to play more responsibly in defense."
Why is that? Are they worried for you, the injured goaltender?
"I don't know, I don't know, it's just my observation. But the defensemen are playing great."
Did you specifically slow down your recovery process so as to not repeat your former mistakes and return before you are totally healthy?
"Of course, previously I tried to come back as soon as possible, and that wasn't the best experience. This time they gave me more time to recover. The trip to the farm club also gave me some confidence."
And it doesn't hurt to return and immediately win two games.
"I think the team played great. The defense didn't give any chances to shoot at me. Besides, in both games we scored first, and that builds your confidence."
Is it difficult to be in games when the opponent doesn't shoot much?
"Yeah, it's always difficult for the goaltender when there aren't a lot of shots on his goal. You always have to concentrate and keep your wits about you, because often in those situations you let your guard down a little bit and you let in some stupid goals. But again, that's all because of the defense. They basically didn't give the opponent any chances."
So do you now know for certain that you are 100% ready?
"You need to know that for sure when you go out on the ice. Yes, I played three games at the farm club, just to be sure of my strength."
But isn't it mentally difficult to once again wear the farm club jersey?
"Absolutely not, I'm cool with that. In hockey anything can happen; today you're up, and tomorrow you're down. I had problems, and I had to return to the farm. This is normal."
In New Jersey, where you were backup, you weren't able to sit on the bench before the beginning of the second period-something happened with your skates-what exactly?
"They just got left behind somewhere. The team has a lot of uniforms, and it's difficult to keep up with everyone. So the injured Neuvirth sat in my place. But my skates showed up in time just before the beginning of the second period, and everything was fine."
Did Poti really scare you?
"Hell yeah. I didn't know what to do, if I should I try to climb out from under the pipes or hide behind them."
Are you surprised at the progress of your former junior national teammate, Bobrovsky? Right now he is one of the top candidates for rooky of the year.
"I knew that he was hardworking. He is a real professional, always giving it his all."
Today you stopped Stamkos, the best goal and point scorer in the league. Did you specially prepare for him?
"Of course I watched a lot of videos of him before the game, learning how he plays and from which positions he likes to shoot."
And what exactly did you see?
"He has a very sharp shot, and he is surprisingly accurate shooting on the run, which is always very difficult for goaltenders."
Can you consider him a star on the same level as Ovechkin and Crosby?
"These three are the best in the NHL. But the NHL is the type of league where every team has their own starts. That is why it's difficult to play against any particular team here."