Semyon Varlamov, recently returned to service after suffering another injury, spoke with Slava Malamud of Sport-Express and shared his thoughts on his spate of injuries and the recent rumors of his interest in the KHL.
The match against Carolina a few days ago was somewhat revealing-- almost a microcosm of Semyon Varlamov's season. Everything was good, at times even great, and Bam!- spontaneous calamity. Then, once again, all is good until the next bit of unpleasantness.
Semyon started the game in fine form. Under the noise of the familiar "Var-ly" chants he defended authoritatively during a frenzied first period, where both teams seemingly forgot how to play defense. In the second period he let in a goal which wasn't the least bit his fault, and then stopped a penalty shot by Chad LaRose with a quick poke check.
The thunder started rumbling in the third period, when a weak sharp-angle shot by Jeff Skinner somehow found its way past the goaltender's equipment. The classic softie can be nerve-wracking for anyone, but Varlamov wasn't fazed and just a few minutes later he stopped a killer shot from Eric Staal by going into the splits and blocking a shot to the far post. But in the end he lost the shootout, allowing in two out of three shots.
For a goaltender desperately fighting for the number one spot in the playoffs, that is barely sufficient. But after a series of injuries, such small steps forward are, in a way, progress. As for the reasons for the injuries, I was given some information by somebody who has more than a passing knowledge about such things.
"He has a very explosive style, and Semyon has a tendency to abuse it" said Washington goaltender coach Arturs Irbe. "The muscles can't take it, and he simply has to learn to play a bit more sparingly. It's a matter of age."
Isn't there a concern that all of these injuries will become chronic, like with a lot of goaltenders?
"This happens with much more serious injuries, when the tendon detaches from the bone. Damage like that never fully heals. But Semyon doesn't have anything like that. He is now in 100% form. With time and enough self discipline he is learning how to play so that he doesn't overload his body."
The goaltender himself assessed his physical abilities with typical youthful confidence.
"Physically I'm 100% ready for everything" said Varlamov after the game. "I wouldn't have played otherwise. I was already feeling great during the first game in Ottawa."
Do you remember if you had a similar injury last year in Tampa? You went down on your knees in a routine situation and you pulled your groin? Was your current injury something like that?
"I'm not authorized to talk about it. I simply cannot disclose the nature of the injury."
Can you talk about the psychological impact of the injury?
"I tell myself that if you want to reach the highest level in the NHL, you have to work your way through rough spots. Of course it is unpleasant to be injured all the time, but I try to approach it philosophically. Once I have recovered, I forget about it and move on. Sitting and thinking about how unhappy you are is to move backwards."
Will they give you a chance in the playoffs? After all you are the only one who has Stanley Cup playoff experience.
"There is always a chance, but whether or not they give it to me depends on who starts the series and how they play. And right now nobody knows who that will be. I think that until the very start of the playoffs nobody will be told anything."
There is a thought that Boudreau believes in you more than the other two goaltenders and therefore will give you every possible chance. Do you believe that is so?
"I don't know if that is true or if it is simply the fans' opinion. I don't think he will put me in net if I am playing badly. Especially in the playoffs."
You were uneven in the game against Carolina. What happened on that shot by Skinner?
"That was purely my mistake, so there is nothing to explain. The puck went between my arm and my stick. I take full responsibility for that goal. I saw the puck, the shot wasn't even that hard. I just let it in."
And in the shootout?
"You could just say that the shootout is a lottery. Today I was unlucky, and I can be lucky tomorrow."
Are you troubled by any thoughts about next season?
"I don't have a contract yet and, of course, I want to sign one as soon as possible. I haven't delved into the details, but I'm certain that the club will be thinking about that right after the playoffs."
Your agent said that you were considering the KHL as a possibility.
"Only my agent said that, but that is purely on the level of a rumor."
But the words of the agent were very specific. It turns out you are nonetheless thinking about all possible variants.
"First and foremost I will consider a proposal from Washington. I really want to stay on the team. I'm already settled in here. My dream from childhood was to play in the NHL, and I want to continue that if at all possible."
Even if you are only offered ten percent?
"What does that mean?"
That is the minimum salary increase for a restricted free agent.
"If they give me ten percent, then we'll work with those numbers. There's nothing you can do about it."
Is your dream to play in the NHL strong enough that you would agree to be a number two goaltender?
"For me it has always been important to be number one. That is my assignment, not number two. If it turns out that I have to sit in reserve, then I will work even harder and only think about how I can become number one. But right now I am thinking about the NHL and only the NHL. I've strived for this since I was 16, when I started getting involved with the national team and understood that there was a chance that I could be noticed."
Do you communicate with your former coach Parkkila, who is now with "Atlant"?
"Yeah, quite often. Maybe once a week. On the telephone, of course, there's not much advice you can give. We just keep in touch, find out how each other is doing. He often watches my games."
In the Atlant-Lokomotiv series who are you rooting for-Parkkila or your former team?
"Of course I'm rooting for Lokomotiv. I follow them closely each year, thanks to the team always playing far into the playoffs. I watch clips on the internet."
So that means you saw Lokomotiv's terrible own-goal.
"That was terrible bad luck for Lokomotiv. And Atlant's goaltender Barulin is playing really well this season. Way to go, Parkkila!"