Semyon Varlamov

Bitter Semyon Varlamov hopeful to stay in NHL next year after being Caps backup

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It’s possible that throughout the Capitals run to the playoffs, another Southeast Division title, and earning the top spot in the Eastern Conference that you lost track of one-time starting goalie Semyon Varlamov. When Michal Neuvirth took over the lead job in Washington for the playoffs after both he and Varlamov essentially split roles during the regular season, you could expect that that wouldn’t go over well for the Russian Varlamov who spent last season as the Caps top guy.

Getting bumped down the depth chart is a humbling experience and for Varlamov. He’s due to become a restricted free agent in the offseason, and the Caps failing to get out of the second round made for an even more difficult and trying time to ride the pine. With the Caps out of the playoffs, Varlamov is looking ahead to next year and hoping that he’s got a chance to start again. As for having to sit idly by to watch his team be eliminated, Varlamov tells Slava Malamud of Russian’s Sport-Express  that it was a learning experience in the most sarcastic of ways possible.

“It is horrible to sit on the bench,” Varlamov said. “This was the first time in my career when I mostly sat and watched. But you have to take lessons from everything and turn it for the best. As they say in America, it was a good experience for me… Yes, that’s it. Sitting on the bench for two rounds. Good experience.”

Despite sounding bitter, Varlamov had no complaints about the Capitals’ decision to play Michal Neuvirth exclusively in the playoffs.

“The coach made no mistake in selecting [Neuvirth],” Varlamov said. “Neuvirth played great.”

As for Varlamov’s future with Neuvirth the heir apparent and another youngster in Braden Holtby waiting in the wings, Varlamov says that he’d like to get a shot at starting. Failing that, heading back to Russia is an option he’s keeping open.

“The season is over, so I can start thinking about the future right now,” said Varlamov, looking a bit more downcast than his usual cheerful self. “I will see what happens. My wish is to stay in the NHL and to play for Washington. Hopefully, I can sign a deal soon.”

Asked what would happen if a KHL team made a better offer, Varlamov said: “I am not ready to answer this question right now. But my childhood dream was to play in the NHL. I am only 23 and I would like to play against the best.”

He is still young and with three young goalies on the staff in Washington, it gives them the opportunity to potentially explore moving one of them to get something a bit more useful in return. Between Neuvirth, Varlamov, and Holtby there are guys that other teams in need of goaltending could try to dazzle the Caps on dealing. The catch here is that the Caps are reticent to give up any of their young players even if they’ve got a surplus of them. George McPhee isn’t a GM that’s going to make trades just because he can.

Making things tricky if Varlamov is the guy the Caps would be more willing to deal is Varlamov’s injury history. He’s struggled with staying healthy each season he’s played and him being injured this season opened the door for Neuvirth to take over. There’s a bright future ahead for all three of these guys, but going with a two goalie rotation can be tricky enough, working with three is nearly impossible without keeping an NHL-caliber guy in the AHL. Varlamov’s summer could prove to be very anxious.

Fight video: Someone other than Evander Kane beats up Alex Petrovic

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Bummed out on this holiday? Look on the bright side: at least you’re not as sore as Florida Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic likely is right now.

Not long after suffering three defeats at the hands/fists of Evander Kane, Petrovic likely lost another bout to Nashville Predators tough guy Anthony Bitetto.

(Note: some might consider this more of a draw, for what it’s worth. You can watch that latest fight in the video above.)

Hey, at least Bitetto didn’t taunt Petrovic after their fight …

It was a rough night for the Panthers overall, as they suffered a gruesome injury or two and fell to the Predators by a score of 5-0.

Outdoor game rumors: Jets host Oilers, Red Wings at Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings face off during the first period of the Winter Classic outdoor NHL hockey game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Love is in the air on Valentine’s Day, and so are rumors about hockey fans bundling up for outdoor games next season.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman went over two possible outdoor matchups coming for 2016-17 during Saturday’s Headlines segment.

A smart move for a potential game in Winnipeg: Imagine the Jets hosting a game in Winnipeg in February? Ilya Bryzgalov almost turned off his TV in protest.

Instead, Sportsnet’s John Shannon reports that the Jets are likely to host the Edmonton Oilers in October. That would be a smart logistical move, as long as it isn’t too hot.

(Also, playing it then would hopefully increase the odds of the mainstream sporting public seeing Connor McDavid in an outdoor game.)

Toronto’s turn: Friedman reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs are likely to host the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 Winter Classic (or at least an outdoor game), almost certainly on New Year’s Day 2017.

The two teams combined for a great Winter Classic at Ann Arbor in 2014, so that could be a fun time.

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Keep in mind these are reports (and well-placed ones at that) rather than official announcements for the NHL. These things could always change.

Related: Could the Penguins host the Flyers outdoors next season, too?

Ducks likely to recall Khudobin after Gibson injury

Chicago Blackhawks' Richard Panik (14), of Slovakia, collides with Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson (36) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Chicago. Anaheim won 3-2 in overtime. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
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“Costly victories” may have been one of the themes of Saturday night, as some teams paired impressive wins with worrisome injuries.

The good news is that, in each case, it appears that the early word is optimistic about those players (Tyler Seguin got stitched up in the Stars’ win, for example).

The Anaheim Ducks are reportedly readying to recall Anton Khudobin on Sunday after John Gibson suffered an upper-body injury during a collision with Chicago Blackhawks forward Richard Panik.

Again, so far the hope/expectation is that this might not be a major issue:

The pessimistic take would be to wonder “Uh oh, is the Ducks goalie carousel starting again?”

Frederik Andersen has seen some runs as Anaheim’s No. 1 guy, so maybe this issue is a reminder that the Ducks may be better off keeping both Gibson and Andersen around … at least while they can.

Stars end Capitals’ winning streak, pass Blackhawks for West lead

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For two periods, the Dallas Stars seemed to say, “Are you sure the Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL?”

They chased Braden Holtby and built a 4-0 lead through those first 40 minutes, and that was enough … but barely. The Stars beat the Capitals 4-3 on Saturday, which accomplished the following:

  • Dallas ended Washington’s winning streak at five games. The Stars have now won three straight.
  • This win slides the Stars ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the highly competitive Central Division. While both teams sit at 77 standings points, Dallas holds three games in hand.
  • By passing Chicago, the Stars now lead the Western Conference as a whole.

Impressive stuff. Some might even call it a statement game, although others may hold that nail-biting ending against them (possibly arguing that the Stars’ flaws may come back to haunt them in the playoffs).

Dallas’ biggest concern likely has little to do with doubters. Instead, they must monitor the statuses of forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.

Long story short, the Stars are red-hot, yet bigger challenges likely lie ahead.