The Washington Capitals have kept things simple for rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov so far.
Given Varlamov’s limited grasp of English, coach Bruce Boudreau said he hasn’t talked to him out of fear he would affect the goalie’s play. Even Alex Ovechkin said his conversations with Varlamov have been limited.
Simplicity has been the key. But after Varlamov stifled the New York Rangers’ anemic offense in the first round, life is about to get a lot more complicated against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I don’t know if he can get rattled. He doesn’t look like a guy that gets too emotionally up or too emotionally down,” Boudreau said. “[But] we have to be much more alert because they can score goals at a quicker pace than the Rangers can.”
New York was 28th in the league in scoring during the regular season; Pittsburgh was sixth at 3.15 goals a game. If Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin weren’t enough to engender some fear, Pittsburgh acquired Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin before the trade deadline and got sharpshooting defenseman Sergei Gonchar back after an injury.
But Varlamov has been up to the task so far. He’s 4-2 with a 1.17 goals-against average and .952 save percentage. It is the best playoff start for a rookie goalie since Carolina’s Cam Ward went 6-0 with a 1.14 GAA and .955 save percentage in 2006 en route to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
But even with higher expectations, Varlamov said he isn’t feeling any extra pressure.
“I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything, because I’m in the same situation as the rest of the guys here,” he said through an interpreter. “We’re only past the first opponent in the playoffs, and we are pretty far away from a Stanley Cup right now.”
Containing the Penguins’ attack and trying to march through the Stanley Cup playoffs is about more than just Varlamov’s ability. As they did against New York, the Caps must limit quality scoring chances and let Varlamov have a clear view of shots.
“No matter what goalie you have, if you don’t make a commitment to team defense and limit chances, teams are gonna score eventually,” defenseman Brian Pothier said.
Ovechkin takes day off
Ovechkin was the only Caps player not on the ice for Thursday morning’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Ovechkin and Boudreau insisted the Hart Trophy finalist was not hurt.
“Just take more day off,” Ovechkin said.
Added Boudreau: “He’ll be practicing [Friday]. His body gets beat up because he plays so much, and he just plays a lot. He needs a little bit more rest than other guys, so he’s just resting today.”
Ovechkin played almost 23 minutes a game in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, scoring three goals and adding four assists.