Semyon Varlamov’s Russian agent bashes the Washington Capitals

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It’s rarely safe to assume much about free agency until names are signed on dotted lines, but there’s a strong feeling that young goalie Semyon Varlamov’s days with the Washington Capitals are numbered. (And those numbers seem like they’ll be in the single digits.)

Earlier today, Joe passed along reports that Varlamov will leave the NHL for the greener, Russian pastures of the KHL.

Again, we warn you not to assume that this situation is set in stone, but logic weighs on the side of a departure. As a restricted free agent in a market with a limited number of goalie openings, Varlamov probably wouldn’t be able to maximize his earning potential if he stayed in the NHL. Much like (much older, unrestricted free agent goalie) Evgeni Nabokov before him, Varlamov can make a lot more money by playing overseas in the KHL.

One would think that Varlamov and his reps would have an “all-business” attitude toward his (soon-to-be-former?) employers, the Washington Capitals. After all, the Caps’ reluctance to give Varlamov the $4 million per year deal he reportedly seeks is pretty reasonable. Despite showing flashes of brilliance, Varlamov struggles with injuries and therefore lacks the kind of track record necessary for a big raise. It’s my gut instinct that he’s a bit better than Michal Neuvirth, but the Capitals’ other top option in net will only make $1.15 million per year for the next two seasons. It would take a phenomenal sales job to convince the Capitals that Varlamov is almost $3 million better than Neuvirth.

Yet even in the seemingly dry, bottom line-based world of contract negotiations, it’s important to note that things can get emotional. (Even when it’s not as obvious as a brow-beaten player breaking down in tears during a salary arbitration hearing.) CSNWashington.com shares Varlamov’s Russian agent Vyacheslav Makhrenskiy’s criticisms of the Capitals, originally passed along by Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov.

On the training staff:

“Actually, there are problems with medical care in Washington. Doctors in Russia are better. It happened when the Capitals’ doctor says ‘Everything is alright, let him play.’  Semyon feels that his knee is still hurting. But he goes out to play, and then he’s injured again. And the injury is not that serious, but he couldn’t play again.”

On the contract negotiations:

“The Capitals were getting ready for the new negotiations. But they didn’t expect that Semyon could pick Russia. Washington management thought that they were in charge of the situation. But it turned out not to be the case.”

Sometimes messages get a little muffled with agents, especially in the case of Varlamov and other European players who might have one for NHL negotiations and another for overseas deals. It’s important to note that Varlamov’s departure is far from official; we’ll find out how credible these (seemingly justifiable) rumors are sometime after free agency begins at noon on Friday.

That being said, if he’s done with Washington, future reunions could be frostier than winter days in Russia (which Varlamov will seemingly need to become re-acquainted with).

The Buzzer: Night of the goalies

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Players of the Night:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning needed Vasilevskiy to play like the NHL All-Star that he is and that’s exactly what he gave them, stopping 40 shots to help the Lightning to a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The win was important for Tampa, who regained the top spot in the NHL standings and ended a three-game slide in the process. Vasilevskiy’s league-leading seventh shutout of the season ties a franchise record.

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: Mrazek fielded 37 shots from the New Jersey Devils on Monday night and handled each and every one of them for his second shutout in as many starts.

Nick Cousins, Arizona Coyotes: Cousins got the ball rolling for the Desert Dogs in the first period, giving them a 1-0 lead. After the Islanders tied the game in the third, Cousins put the final stamp on the game with a goal 2:21 into overtime to give Arizona their second straight win.

Comeback of the Night:

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker got drilled in the head with a slap shot in the first period and had to be helped off the ice. Miraculously, Zucker returned a short time later and went on to score the game-winning goal at the 4:59 mark of the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie in the Wild’s 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night:

Granlund and Dumba:

Mrazek made plenty of saves on Monday and perhaps none better than this one (Brian Boyle‘s reaction is priceless):

Ottawa Senators fans will like this, even if the end result wasn’t great:

Auston Matthews had the celebration of the night:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Avalanche 4, Maple Leafs 2

Red Wings 3, Devils 0

Wild 3, Senators 1

Lightning 2, Blackhawks 0

Sabres 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Coyotes 3, Islanders 2 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Lightning end three-game skid with 2-0 win over Blackhawks

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Jon Cooper called declared that his team was “out of sync” prior to Monday night’s game in Chicago.

It’s three words that haven’t been used at all this season to describe the Tampa Bay Lightning who, up until Sunday, was known as the best team in the NHL.

The Lightning came into Monday night nursing a three-game losing streak, another foreign concept for a team saw four of its players elected to the NHL’s All-Star Game this coming weekend.

But just as quickly as they dropped out of the top spot in the NHL — the Vegas Golden Knights assumed that throne for 24 hours after a win on Sunday night — the Lightning snatched it back in a 2-0 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City on Monday.

For a team that perhaps forgot how to play with one another, they looked comfortable in each other’s company against the Blackhawks.

The game was tight for the most part, and it took the Blackhawks being caught napping shorthanded to break a 0-0 deadlock late in the second period as Chris Kunitz took advantage of a defensive mishap. 

Jake Dotchin’s wrister sailed wide, but Kunitz was allowed to waltz behind the net, pick up the loose puck and put it behind Jeff Glass, nearly untouched through the whole process.

The NHL’s top goalie once again lived up to the distinction as Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside all 40 shots that came his way.

The Blackhawks put up 10 or more shots in each of the game’s three periods, including 17 in the second frame. But the All-Star netminder played and exceptional game, including stopping 10 out of 10 on the power play to keep Chicago 0-for-6 on the power play.

Yanni Gourde sealed the game late in the third with a blast to make it 2-0.

It’s a win Tampa needed, especially after finding out they’ll miss forward Ondrej Palat indefinitely.

The struggles continued for the Blackhawks, meanwhile.

Chicago has now been shutout twice in their past three games and is on a three-game skid with a 4-5-1 record in their past 10.

The Lightning could afford their losing streak. They’ve earned an opportunity to slide a little bit.

For the Blackhawks, another loss means another chance missed trying to survive in a deeply competitive Central Division.

The Blackhawks are hanging by a thread and time is running out quickly.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Colorado Avalanche’s win streak hits double digits

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The streak is now in double digits.

The Colorado Avalanche won their 10th straight game on Monday night, taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2.

Yes, that’s 10 wins by the team that ended last season with an NHL-worst 48 points.

Hockey is wonderful, isn’t it?

The Avalanche have been pretty darn good during that streak, outscoring opponents 41-16 during that span. Scoring four goals per game on average will win you more than it won’t.

And the Avs have had success on the back end. Jonathan Bernier has been completely lights out during the streak. He is on a streak of his own with nine straight wins, becoming the third netminder in franchise history to win nine in a row after Stephane Fiset (9) and Patrick Roy (11).

Colorado’s streak is also an NHL-best this season and it’s the second longest streak in Avs history (they won 12 straight during the 1998-99 season).

The Avs are sitting on 57 points, good for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

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How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.