Tim Wharnsby - Monday Dec. 9, 2013 11:28

Semyon Varlamov should be Russia's No. 1 Olympic goalie

Russians face dubious goaltending situation

There is little doubt Colorado Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov should be Russia’s No. 1 goaltender at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. (Jack Dempsey/Associated Press)

If you think Canada’s goaltending situation for the Sochi Olympics is dubious, check out the state of Russia’s crease.

Of the three NHL goalies the Russian Ice Hockey Federation invited to their summer camp, the only healthy one is Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche.

The reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, of the Columbus Blue Jackets, went down with a groin strain last week and is expected to miss the next four-to-five weeks. He has been inconsistent this season and there is uncertainty as to whether he can rediscover his form in time for Sochi.

Evgeni Nabokov, 38, has missed the past three weeks with a groin ailment. The veteran New York Islanders netminder has been back at practice with his teammates, but before his injury, his .892 save percentage was 63rd out of the 76 goalies who have played in the NHL this season.

There is little doubt Varlamov should be Russia’s No. 1 netminder in February. But there is this legal matter he has been dealing with.

After an alleged incident with his girlfriend on Oct. 30, Varlamov was arrested and charged with one count of third-degree misdemeanour assault by the Denver District Attorney. His next court appearance has been scheduled for Jan. 22.

Despite the distraction the 25-year-old Varlamov has played well. There was a hiccup in Edmonton, when he yielded eight goals on 28 shots against the Oilers last Thursday. But otherwise he’s been solid and has further developed his game under his new goalie coach in Francois Allaire.

"He's probably going to be the No. 1 goalie for them in the Olympics, and he'll be ready for it, no doubt in my mind," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy told the Denver Post. "If I was the Russian coach, I would use him, but I'm not. Right now, he's working very hard, he's very focused and I think he'll do a good job for them, depending on the decision of their coach." 

Varlamov has remarked that he’s not worried about his legal troubles.

“No one has ever heard my version and did not see my evidence,” he told last week.

Varlamov spectator in Vancouver

Four years ago in Vancouver, Varlamov was the third-string goalie behind Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov. He spent most of his time in the stands watching the games with Russian legend and Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Vladislav Tretiak, who was the team’s general manager in 2010.

Tretiak, also the president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, was in North America last month on a scouting mission.

With all the skill on its roster – Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin – Russia could not deliver a medal in Vancouver. Canada beat the Russians 7-3 in the quarter-finals. Nabokov was lifted after he surrendered six goals on 23 shots. In relief, Bryzgalov turned aside 18 of 19 shots.

But goaltending wasn’t the only problem for the Russians in Vancouver. Ovechkin was shut down and held off the score sheet.

Still, the Russians know they will need good goalkeeping in Sochi, something that has been missing since the last gold-medal victory by the Soviet-Unified Team-Russian legacy, when Mikhail Shtalenkov was good enough for the Unified Team in Albertville in 1992.

Meanwhile, back in the KHL

Konstantin Barulin and Vasily Koshechkin were the other two goalies invited to Russia’s summer camp, in case you were wondering. Even though both were drafted in the NHL, they have spent their entire pro careers in Russia.

Barulin, 29 (Ak-Bars Kazan) 11-6-0, .941 save percentage in 2013-14

  • Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the third round in 2003.
  • Named 2010-11 KHL goalie of the year and playoff MVP.
  • Beat Canada 2-1 at 2011 world championship.
  • Won both starts as backup to Varlamov on 2012 gold-medal world championship team.
  • Won gold as backup with Ovechkin at 2003 world junior in Halifax.

Koshechkin, 30 (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) 17-8-0, .931 save percentage in 2013-14

  • Drafted by Tampa Bay Lighting in eighth round in 2002.
  • Third goalie on 2009 gold-medal world championship team.

Canadian Olympic goalies

Each week we rank the top contenders for the three goalkeeper spots on the Canadian Olympic team based on their play to date.

1. Carey Price (Montreal) – He has checked in with seven wins in a row and clearly is the favourite to be No. 1 right now for the Canadian team.

2. Josh Harding (Minnesota) – The inspirational story continues to get better. He knocked off two of the top teams in Chicago and San Jose last week.

3. Roberto Luongo (Vancouver) – He reeled off three wins in a row last week and stopped an impressive 95 of 99 shots. 

4. Corey Crawford (Chicago) – The Stanley Cup winner leads all Canadian goalies in wins with 17 this fall, but lost back-to-back games against Dallas and Minnesota last week. Crawford left Sunday’s game against Florida with a lower-body injury.

5. Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh) – He saw his three-game win streak end with a dodgy 18-save effort in a 3-2 loss in Boston on Saturday.