I am happy to see people finally realize just how good Simeon Varlamov is. As a frequent poster on Tarik El-Bashir's excellent Capitals Insider blog, I've touted him consistently since before the season even started and was often ridiculed. I feel vindicated now.
The reason I was so confident in his ability is simply because I saw him play much more than most Capitals fans. He's performed brilliantly in top level international tournaments for Russia, as well in last year's Russian Super Liga, which was an excellent league (and a predecessor to this year's KHL).
It is extremely rare that a 19-year old becomes a number one goalie in the Russian league, and Varly was not just a No. 1, but a starter on a very good Lokomotiv Yaroslavl club that finished second overall in the regular season.
The team went all the way to the finals of the RSL playoffs before falling to what is, in terms of depth of talent, the Russian version of the Detroit Red Wings, Salavat Yulayev of Ufa.
I got annoyed when people disregarded this experience without having ever seen even one game from the Russian league and dismissing it as some beer league. As a logical person, it is very strange for me how many people can judge something they know absolutely nothing about. But I digress.
I've been saying all along that Varlamov is a special kid, very mature for his age, and I've been waiting for the Capitals' excellent coach, Bruce Boudreau, to give him a real chance, especially in light of Theodore impersonating an antique night stand in the Capitals net all year (if the puck doesn't accidentally hit him, it's going in).
I have always known that Varlamov is a much better goalie, regardless of his age and lack of NHL experience. I believe that if things like who gets to play were always based on merit only he would have become our No. 1 goalie long ago.
Boudreau, whom I greatly admire, felt obligated to keep giving Jose Theodore chance after chance to "bounce back" simply because he was our expensive free agent designated No. 1 (similar to the reason Jean-Sebastian Giguere got 1,001 chances to prove that he's not the goalie he used to be before the Ducks finally gave the reigns to Jonas Hiller).
I think that Boudreau knew a while ago just how much better Varly is. Finally, after game one of the playoffs, in which Theodore was single-handedly responsible for tagging the Capitals with a loss, he decided that he can't keep putting Theo's personal happiness above the team anymore because we'd be bounced right out of the playoffs by a far inferior team.
(No disrespect to the Rangers, it just happens to be true.)
My supreme confidence in Varlamov only seemed silly to those who didn't see him play as much as I have, which, when it comes to Capitals fans, was probably somewhere around 99.9 percent.
Simeon is also proving another one of my observations correct. Theodore has never been the victim of the Capitals' bad defense. Rather the Capitals' defense has been the victim of Theodore. Jose's defenders (like Olie Kolzig's defenders last year) kept finding every excuse in the book and blaming the defense.
I've always held that any good goalie would have very good stats playing for this team just by virtue of the Capitals spending most of their time in the offensive zone. Their defense is already better than that of most teams.
By virtue of a goalie not letting in soft goals or controlling shots—by either catching them or sending hard rebounds to the boards—it's even better because they're not under constant barrage of second chances for the opposition.
Cristobal Huet already proved this fact last year, and any goalie other than Theodore that's been in this year (Brent Johnson, Michal Neuvirth and Simeon Varlamov) was proving it also, yet some people were not convinced. Maybe now they will finally see the light.
Like a well behaved Rangers guest to Tarik's blog has said, the Capitals are absolutely scary with a stud goalie in net. Knowing that the Capitals had a great young goalie yet were playing a washed up old night stand instead has been the most frustrating thing about the Capitals to me this season.
Goaltending was our No. 1 problem all year, and we had a solution to it either sitting on the bench or playing in the minors.
After all, even before the season started, I was adamant that the Capitals did not need to sign Theodore at all because I believed Varlamov was ready. I pretty much got laughed at by some of the people who consider themselves experts.
Now that Varlamov has given the Capitals what they've been missing all year it seems that nobody is laughing anymore.
Now, if only there was a way for the Capitals to buy out the second year of Theodore's contract. Otherwise, they will have a backup with a $4.5 million cap hit because once this year's playoffs are over, Varlamov will establish himself as the Capitals starter, ideally, with a cheap Brent Johnson as the veteran cover.
Lastly, if the Capitals were one of the top teams in the NHL this season not because, but despite Theodore, now that they have a real No. 1 goalie, how good are they?
The obvious answer is that they're much better than before, and that should be a scary thought for their opposition.
Before game two of the series, I predicted that if Varlamov starts in place of Theodore, he will give the Capitals every chance to dispose of the Rangers and go deep in the playoffs.
He has done exactly that by allowing just a single goal in his first two NHL playoffs starts. Unfortunately, his teammates could not provide any goal support for him in game two, but now that the Capitals offense seems to be back to firing on all cylinders, they should not have too much trouble overturning what is now just a 2-1 series deficit.