The frustration Caps fans feel with Semyon Varlamov's play is also felt by the young netminder himself, as revealed in this recent interview with Slava Malamud and Sport Express.
You can't call it second season syndrome, because this is actually Semyon Varlamov's first. Last season he only played a few games, and now he is officially considered a rookie. He could be a candidate for the Calder Cup. But that's rather difficult to believe.
First, it's hard to believe because following the rookie's heroic performance a year ago during the Stanley Cup playoffs, Varlamov basically disappeared. Although you couldn't ask for a better debut than to make an unimaginable save against Crosby in the playoffs (followed by a rout in the deciding match by that very same Crosby). Second, it's hard to believe because Semyon's season, which started out so brilliantly, turned into a nightmare. Injury. Another injury. An unsuccessful return before the Olympics. Sitting in the press box in Vancouver. And, finally, two collapses in the post-Olympic period.
In the game against Tampa, Varlamov allowed two goals in the third period, which nearly cost Washington the victory. One of the goals was scored by Vincent Lecavalier, catching the young goalkeeper with a fake shot.
"I really bought it" observed Varlamov, and a quite accurate observation at that. This was one of those moments when a veteran forward teaches a young goalkeeper a useful but painful lesson in craftsmanship.
Against Dallas, everything was going good for Varlamov-again, until the third period. Then, his net was torn into thrice in the first eight minutes, with the last goal entirely the fault of the goaltender. Just like in the first matches of the season, Semyon showed up for the first forty minutes. This, coupled with the robust playing of his colleague Jose Theodore, has so far kept the Russian firmly nailed to the bench.
"I agree, something is not right yet." Said Varlamov in an interview with Sport express. "I don't know what's the matter."
In the game against Dallas, the first two periods of the game were almost entirely in the offensive zone. Maybe you just froze up a little bit?
"No, the lack of shots on goal is no excuse. We were winning this game in every way, we outplayed them. But thanks to the "excellent" play of Washington's goalkeeper, they tied up the score and won."
You are always self-critical, but there is no way the first two goals were your fault.
"So what if I didn't see the puck. The shots were from the blue line. Goals are goals, and you really can't justify letting in two in a row on two shots."
So there's a little rust? You've been idle since December, and you sat in the press box at the Olympics.
"Of course it's difficult, since after all it's been three months. But again that's no excuse. I've had enough practice that I should be in normal shape."
So what is happening? Is it the usual goalkeeper thing, something mental?
"There are some events which are difficult to explain. It's good that the team is playing well and can make up for my mistakes. Going forward, of course, I have to play more reliably. Our team is a contender for the Stanley Cup, and I don't have the right to betray them."
The Olympics didn't knock you off your game mentally or physically?
"Me? No. Now if I was in Evgeni Nabokov's place of course it would have affected me much harder and for a longer period of time. But we're all professionals, and our job is to not whine but to analyze our mistakes and move forward."
Looking at it from the sidelines, did you notice anything that the team was lacking in the game against Canada?
"We couldn't get things going at the beginning. We had to survive the first ten minutes, and we couldn't. Why? You don't need to ask me that. The guys themselves know, and who am I to answer a question like that? I was basically an observer."
In the remaining games you have to beat Theodore for the first place spot as goaltender in the playoffs. Do you feel the pressure?
"No, there is no pressure whatsoever. I have to find my game and work on my mistakes."
This isn't one of those cases where a young goaltender is figured out in his second season?
"No, these are all my mistakes. The third goal against Dallas was really stupid and fully my fault. I don't even know how it happened. Sometimes you have enough time to sit down when you take a shot from one meter, but that time the shot was from five meters and I wasn't able to get down! How can you explain it? And then there was another chance for redemption in the shootout where I could pull one out for the team. And again I couldn't make use of the opportunity. It was a real shame."
So what do you have to do now to find, as you say, "your game"?
"First, I have to understand that nothing catastrophic has happened. Yes, I made a mistake and I admit my mistakes. But I have to quickly get over these and work, work, work. This is the only way I can return to the number one goaltender spot."