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Between the Ears Between the Pipes

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"He has got to be mentally tougher to play. The one thing that has reared its ugly head right now is they score in bunches on him. ... I think he can get down on himself, and I don't know the answer because I haven't talked to him yet, but I think he gets down on himself, and we've got to get him out of that." - Bruce Boudreau on Semyon Varlamov after last night's loss in Philly

Goalies give up goals. It's what they do. Even the best of 'em let just under one out of every ten shots and two per game get past them and into the net.

Semyon Varlamov is no exception, of course, and it's no secret that he's off to a rough start this fall, with a 3.49 goals against average and a .884 save percentage if you include three preseason starts (5.11/.857 if you don't... so we will).

But the manner in which Varly has been allowing goals lately is particularly worrisome because, as Boudreau notes, it's indicative of a problem that may be more mental than physical. Sure there are technical flaws in Varly's game. But if he doesn't get his head straight, he may not get a chance to correct them at the NHL level.

How bad has it been for the young Russian? Corey Masisak expands on the "bunches" to which Boudreau referred:

Five of the last six times Semyon Varlamov has put a Washington Capitals uniform he has allowed three goals in a period. -- vs. Pittsburgh in Game 7, @ Buffalo and vs. the N.Y. Rangers in the preseason, and vs. Toronto and @ Philadelphia in the regular season. This doesn't even include that Duchesne Cup disaster when he yielded nine goals.

The kid looks great for long stretches, but when they start going in ...

In fairness (not that it matters), Varlamov actually gave up a pair in the first period and a pair in the second before being yanked in that Game 7 debacle, but the underlying point remains - to quote The Tragically Hip, "when it starts to fall apart, man, it really falls apart."

Taking a closer look at those five brutal outings (standard "small sample size" disclaimer applies) quantifies the "bunches" further:

Through 1st Goal Allowed 2.03 .934
After 1st, Through 2nd 9.92 .750
After 2nd, Through 3rd 8.55 .792
After 3rd, Through 4th 20.80 .500

Yikes. Though he only allowed a fourth goal in three of the five games, in each of the five Varly allowed a) goals less than four minutes apart and b) without making three saves in between tallies at least once. Four different times opponents beat him on consecutive shots. Also worth noting, only one of the 13 non-first goals allowed in these five games was on the power play. Troubling indeed.

To be sure, the team in front of him shares some culpability for these numbers. But "damage control" is a hugely important skill for a goalie to have, and right now Varly doesn't have it - instead of snuffing out fires, he's fueling them. It's a lot to ask of a 21-year-old netminder to have the poise of a seasoned veteran, but if he's not ready for it... well, there are places where he can get ready. And hopefully the Russian-speaking goalie coach has a pop-psych trick or two up his sleeve that belie his lack of experience in that position.