With the NHL lockout keeping many professional netminders off the ice on a regular basis, one masked man has been able to elevate his game overseas, and thus far, has been the best goaltender in the Kontiental Hockey League (KHL).
This player happens to be 24-year-old netminder Semyon Varlamov.
Last season with the Colorado Avalanche, Varlamov experienced what it is like to be a number-one goalie. The native of Kuybyshev didn’t disappoint as he would go on to post a 26-24-3 record with a 2.59 GAA, a .913 save percentage and four shutouts.
While the young Russian netminder wasn’t able to get his club into the postseason, he did show that he could handle the pressure and grind of being an NHL starting backstop, while also showing that he could maintain his health. Last season was the first year in which "Varly" played more than 27 games and didn’t miss any significant playing time due to injuries.
It appears that last year’s successful stint as a starter has yet to wear off on Varlamov.
Knowing that the NHL wasn’t going to start on time due to the lockout, the 23rd overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft went ahead and signed a deal with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL, the team he played with before joining the NHL’s Washington Capitals in 2008-09.
While other NHL starters such as Pekka Rinne and Ilya Bryzgalov have struggled in the KHL this season, Varlamov has starred. Thus far, Varlamov is 7-2 with a sterling 1.63 GAA, a sparkling .951 save percentage and three shutouts.
Steve Dangle, a hockey social media guru, among other things, and someone who covers the KHL for its YouTube page and allhockey.ru, believes that Varlamov has provided Lokomotiv with extra ammo as a solid team in the KHL.
"Lokomotiv was a strong team before Varlamov arrived but he has really taken them to another level," Dangle said.
In his first game of the season back on October 10, 2012, Varlamov showed the KHL that his skills hadn’t worn off during the off-season. Lokomotiv won 2-1 as Varlamov stopped 38-of-39 shots in beating Dynamo Minsk, currently the top team in the league.
Since that game, Varlamov’s stellar play has carried his team to a tie for first in the league with 58 points. The team has won nine straight games and in those nine games, Varlamov has three shutouts and has allowed just nine goals.
"They (Lokomotiv) win a lot of close, one-goal games and escape with 3 or at least 2 points," Dangle explained. "Varlamov has been huge for them."
While many NHL goaltenders play the waiting game in North America, Varlamov is playing some of his best hockey overseas. Should the league and the NHLPA come to an agreement and have a season, Varlamov could be poised for a big season with for the Avalanche when the puck eventually drops.