From Anna Adler, Washington Capitals correspondent
It’s unclear how many people knew who Semyon Varlamov was until this time last year. He played a handful of games in the 08-09 season but became an unlikely playoff hero after Jose Theodore allowed 4 goals in the Caps loss in the first game of the first round of the playoffs. Coach Bruce Boudreau opted to start Varlamov in the next game and he stayed in net for the duration of the season. Varly, as he’s called, ultimately played twice as many playoff games for the Caps as he had regular season games and it’s entirely possible that if the Capitals had gone on to win the Stanley Cup, he may not have even qualified to have his name engraved. And yet, there he was, posting his first ever NHL shutout in just the second playoff game of his career. As the visiting team. At Madison Square Garden. All of a sudden, Caps PR hustled to inform the media of the correct spelling and pronunciation of his name and Varlamov t-shirts and jerseys went into production almost overnight. Theo, meanwhile, watched on from the bench as his stock with the team seemed to plummet.
The Capitals went on to lose to the Penguins and, throughout the summer, debate ensued as to whether Theo had lost his starting position to a kid still cutting his teeth in the AHL. Boudreau refused to show his hand, reiterating that the starting goalie job was up for grabs. Theo and Varly traded starts until Varlamov sustained an injury which kept him dormant through January and February. At that point, Michal Neuvirth was recalled from Hershey and played so admirably that for a while it looked as if Boudreau may have three contenders from which to chose. However, as the Caps moved into the home stretch of this season, it became obvious that the one-time Hart and Vezina trophy winner was regaining his confidence. He’s had a 30-7-7 regular season record which includes a 10-game winning streak and no regulation losses since January 13th. It was no real surprise then, when Boudreau made it known that Theodore would be the one starting in goal Thursday night against Montreal.
Jose Theodore has had a rough year, to put it mildly. Aside from being benched, the waning days of summer brought tragedy when his two month old son passed away. Theodore, however, was back at training camp just weeks later ready to make a comeback. He would later comment, during a Washington Post interview from early March, that his release took the form of pouring himself into his work. He was considered the #1 goalie headed into the season but got off to a rocky start–pulled from net during a game against the Islanders after allowing 3 goals on 5 shots. The following game, he allowed 5 goals. He wouldn’t play again until late November but would win his first contest back with a 3-2 win over Carolina and only once since then has he posted two losses in a row.
It’s no secret that goaltending is the Capitals’ wild card. Theodore’s record may seem to speak for itself, but his detractors, most recently Canadiens centerman Tomas Plekanec, seem unphased. After all, the Capitals penalty kill unit is one of the worst in the league, which makes a goalie’s mental state all the more valuable. It’s imperative now that Jose Theodore maintains his composure, consistency, and place as #1 goaltender; to make sure Varlamov is warming the bench this year and not him–because Theo has worked too hard to let that happen again.