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.

Buffalo’s depth on defense is dwindling

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 18:  Josh Gorges #4 of the Buffalo Sabres skates against the Boston Bruins at First Niagara Center on October 18, 2014 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres aren’t known for their depth on defense, so when they have to deal with injuries at that position, things can get complicated.

Well…I guess things are about to get complicated.

On Sunday, the Sabres announced that Josh Gorges (pictured) will miss “weeks” because of a non-displaced fracture in his foot. The injury occurred after he blocked a shot in Thursday’s game against the Rangers.

Besides Gorges, Buffalo is also without Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov.

Bogosian has been out since Nov. 3 with sprained ligaments in his knee, and he’s still 10-to-14 days away from getting back into the lineup.

The news is a little better for Kulikov, who returned to practice on Sunday. He’s missed 11 games because of a back injury he suffered in the preseason. He tried playing through it, but obviously he was still in some discomfort.

“Kulikov has now skated two days with some physicality and now been skating for seven days,” coach Dan Bylsma said, per the Buffalo News. “Hopefully, that means we’ll see him in practice soon – in the next week hopefully.”

Now, some of the replacements for these guys are starting to get hurt.

Taylor Fedun missed Sunday’s practice and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play against the Capitals on Monday night. If he can’t go, Buffalo will need to call someone up from the minors.

Things got so wacky last week that the Sabres called up Brendan Guhle from junior on an emergency basis. By rule, he can stay on the roster as long as he keeps playing. Once he stops playing, the emergency tag is removed and he has to go back to his junior team.

Guhle, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Cody Franson and Justin Falk are the healthy defensemen on the roster right now.

Goalie nods: Dubnyk looks to continue dominance of Oilers

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 07:  Devan Dubnyk #40 of the Minnesota Wild celbrates a win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on April 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 2-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Playing against your old team is always special, but Devan Dubnyk takes it to another level when he goes up against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers drafted Dubnyk in the first round, 14th overall, in 2004 and he spent parts of five seasons with them.

Since leaving Edmonton in 2014, he’s won six of seven games against his former team.

To make matters worse for the Oilers, his individual stats are better against them than they are against any other team in the league. He has a  1.28 goals-against-average and a .949 save percentage in those seven games.

His numbers in 2016-17 aren’t as good as his career numbers against Edmonton, but he still has a fantastic 1.67 goals-against-average and a .946 save percentage this season.

Like the Wild, the Oilers played last night, as they won an OT decision against the Ducks.

Cam Talbot played in that game, so they’ll opt to start backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson tonight.

Elsewhere… 

Ben Bishop turned in a solid performance against the Capitals last night, but the Lightning still haven’t announced who their starter will be this afternoon. Cam Ward is likely to get the nod for the Hurricanes.

–The Flyers and Predators both played afternoon games yesterday, and neither side has indicated who will start. Don’t be surprised if it’s Steve Mason against Pekka Rinne.

Jared Coreau made his NHL debut for Detroit yesterday, so look for Petr Mrazek to get the call tonight. Jaroslav Halak is the probable starter for the Islanders.

–Look for Connor Hellebuyck to be between the pipes for the Jets, but that hasn’t been confirmed. With Corey Crawford hurt, don’t be surprised if Scott Darling gets his second start in two nights for Chicago.

–The Ducks will give backup Jonathan Bernier the start in Calgary. The Flames will continue to ride Chad Johnson.

Flames get Johnny Gaudreau back way ahead of schedule

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 5: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 5, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Some good news if you’re a fan of the Calgary Flames.

Johnny Gaudreau, who missed 10 games with a finger injury, will be back in their lineup for Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks.

The Flames forward was injured in a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 (he was slashed by Eric Staal), and after he underwent surgery, the team announced that he’d be out six weeks.

In the end, he missed less than three weeks of action.

“I’m ready to play,” Gaudreau said, per NHL.com. “I think the finger’s healed up pretty well there. I’m just excited to get things going here.

“I think they did a great job with my finger and we did a great job rehabbing it. They keep tell me it’s going to be harder to break the nine other fingers than to re-hurt this one. It feels good. It feels good when I shoot. I’m excited to finally get out of there.”

He’ll be playing with some added protection, as Calgary’s equipment manager made this glove for him:

Before Gaudreau got hurt, the Flames had a 6-10-1 record. But thanks to improved team play and some strong performances from goalie Chad Johnson, they managed to go 6-3-1 in, while Gaudreau was out.

The 23-year-old has five goals and six assists in 17 games, but he had scored three goals in three games before getting hurt.

Related:

Gaudreau injury a reminder as to how star players are treated

Boudreau: Flames made “mountain out of a molehill” over Gaudreau slash

Garret Sparks plays for first time since being suspended by Maple Leafs

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 30:  Garret Sparks #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs gets set to face the Edmonton Oilers in an NHL game at Air Canada Centre on November 30, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Oilers 3-0. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Garret Sparks made waves for all the wrong reasons last week, as he was suspended by the Maple Leafs for remarks he made on social media.

Sparks officially made his return on Saturday night in the Marlies’ 3-2 loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack. He stopped 27 of 30 shots.

“It’s been a lot to deal with. I understand what I did,” Sparks said, per TSN.ca. “[The incident] wasn’t me. That’s not who I want to be known as, it’s not the image I want my reputation to have.

“I should know the difference between what I can and can’t say. It’s just holding myself to a higher standard of professionalism.”

The 23-year-old actually returned to the team on Tuesday, but didn’t play until yesterday.

With Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen dealing with an illness, the Leafs recalled Antoine Bibeau, which opened the door for Sparks to make his return.

Sparks has been limited to just five AHL games this year, but he was between the pipes for 17 NHL games in 2015-16.