“Var-ly” has a ring to it as hockey chants go, and Semyon Varlamov did hear it from Islanders fans at times before the season paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the new guy in net has missed out this month on what in another time would have been a regular chorus of “Var-ly, Var-ly, Var-ly” at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
That puts him in the same boat as every other player in the NHL’s fan-free playoff bubbles, of course.
But it is an added pity for Varlamov, given his recent arrival, his relatively low profile and what he has done to get to the Islanders to the second round against the Flyers starting on Monday night.
The 32-year-old Russian is 7-2 with a .934 saves percentage and a 1.67 goals-against average, and on Thursday night he recorded his first playoff shutout since 2009 in a 4-0 victory to close out the Capitals.
(Yes, 2009. Not a misprint.)
And yet so far he has been under the radar both locally and across North America as the Islanders emerge as an increasingly dangerous playoff team.
His Flyers counterpart, Carter Hart, turned 22 this month, grew up near Edmonton (the next bubble destination for the series winner) and on Sunday fielded a reporter’s questions about his parents’ reaction to his success and how “celebrated” he has become in both Philadelphia and Edmonton.
“I don’t know if there’s really anything to celebrate right now; we have a job to do here in this round,” he said. He did add, though, “I know my parents are real excited for what’s going on right now with our team.”
No one has asked Varlamov lately about his parents, or deep questions of any kind, really. His English is good, but lacking in the quotable, thoughtful pizzazz of his predecessor, fan favorite Robin Lehner.
Lehner signed with the Blackhawks as a free agent last offseason and the Islanders added Varlamov, signing him to a four-year, $20 million contract to pair with fellow veteran Thomas Greiss.
Varlamov had enjoyed a long, solid unspectacular career, spending three seasons with the Capitals and eight with the Colorado Avalanche, off the radar of most casual hockey fans in the New York area.
He peaked in 2013-14, going 41-14-6 for the Avs, with a .927 saves percentage.
Early in the season, Varlamov and Greiss alternated regularly, but coach Barry Trotz gave Varlamov the nod coming out of the hiatus, and nine games in he seems to have made a wise decision.
Defenseman Andy Greene, who used to play with Devils goaltending great Martin Brodeur and joined the Isles in February, likes what he has seen.
“Since we’ve been here [in Toronto], absolutely fantastic; he’s stood on his head,” Greene said. “Playing against him earlier this season, just a really steady goalie back there. Just calm, very square and he battles.
“He fights out there and battles with us. I’ve just been very, very impressed with the way he’s been playing so far.”
Varmalov’s style is as unflashy as his personality. As Greene said, he projects calm.
That was evident when he stopped not one but two breakaway scoring chances by the Capitals’ Jakub Vrana in overtime shortly before Mathew Barzal won Game 3.
Normally, it would be lunacy for Trotz to start tinkering in net at this stage. But it is was worth asking about because the second round series has two back-to-back games on its schedule, which is unusual.
“I’ve talked to our goaltending department about the upcoming situation with the back-to-back,” Trotz said. “We are sort of anticipating. We’re going to see with the workload. We’re adjusting as we go along.
“We’re going to take it one day at a time and if a guy is going well, we’ll get him the rest and put him back in.”
Varlamov finished the regular season with 39 starts to Greiss’ 28. Now he has nine more in the playoffs.
He clearly has earned the respect of fans, but a few more weeks of this and it will turn to love, even if he won’t hear the “Var-ly” chants in person for a while yet.
Sign up for Newsday’s Islanders texts with a 14-day free trial at newsday.com/islestext.