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Semyon Varlamov remains steady in goal for Islanders

Semyon Varlamov of the Islanders makes a glove

Semyon Varlamov of the Islanders makes a glove save against the Devils during the first period at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Semyon Varlamov’s play was a key reason the Islanders reached September’s Eastern Conference finals before bowing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning in six games. That included a shutout in the deciding Game 5 of their first-round series against the Capitals.

The goalie has carried over that consistency to the early stages of this 56-game season and was set to start Tuesday night’s game against the Capitals at Capital One Arena, the start of a two-game series in Washington and the first time the teams have met since the playoffs.

"Well, it’s been a long time, we shouldn’t talk about it," Varlamov said on Monday when asked about the Capitals series. "It’s January, we’ve started a new season. I don’t want to go back and talk about the playoffs, shutouts and stuff. That’s history. Nobody really cares anymore. You turn the page and we’ve moved on and we focus in on this year."

Fine.

It’s just that regular-season Varlamov has looked a lot like playoff Varlamov so far.

Varlamov went 3-0-0 with a 0.33 goals-against average and a .988 save percentage through his first three starts. He played in 20 of the Islanders’ 22 postseason games in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, going 11-7 with a 2.14 GAA, a .921 save percentage and two shutouts.

"What you did in the past is in the past," coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday morning. "I think that’s a great attitude to have. When you look back a lot, it’s not going to do anything forward. I think he takes a lot of pride in what he does. You talk about a guy that prepares. A guy that is low maintenance when it comes to, ‘Put me in the net and I’ll be ready.’ He’s trying to get better all the time. You’re only as good as you are today and what we do tonight is more important than what we did six months ago."

Still, there’s no denying it was a satisfying playoff win for the Islanders and Varlamov, who made his NHL debut with the Capitals in 2008.

Trotz coached the Capitals to the organization’s lone Cup win in 2018 before essentially being pushed aside in favor of his top lieutenant, Todd Reirden. The Capitals fired Reirden shortly after being eliminated by the Islanders in favor of Peter Laviolette, who started his NHL coaching career with the Islanders in 2001 and who replaced Trotz behind the Predators’ bench in 2014.

Laviolette taking over for Reirden is not the only change for the Capitals. Former Bruins captain and future Hall of Fame defenseman Zdeno Chara was signed as a free agent and is paired with former Penguin Justin Schultz. Former No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby joined the Canucks via free agency.

Meanwhile, the Capitals will be without new No. 1 goalie Ilya Samsonov, captain Alex Ovechkin, center Evgeny Kuznetsov and defenseman Dmitry Orlov as all four players will remain on the NHL’s COVID-protocol list for both games.

But while Varlamov and the Islanders are not dwelling on the past, the current Capitals are not forgetting it.

Capitals defenseman John Carlson said there is extra motivation facing the Islanders.

"As a player, you can either have something against the other team or kind of make something about the other team," Carlson said on Tuesday morning. "You’re always trying to have something going on mentally to give you that extra charge, give you a little extra boost and focus. And, certainly, we saw these guys last year and it didn’t end anywhere close to what we expect from ourselves. So, as a player, absolutely."

New York Sports