On Saturday in Denver, the Capitals may have the chance to see how their former first-round draft pick looks in the opposing net.
“It’s going to be exciting, obviously,” said Michal Neuvirth, who is expected to start in goal for the Capitals in Colorado and spent the earliest years of his professional career competing with Varlamov for top billing in Washington. “I’m not sure if he’s going to play, but we’ll see. I want to see him, talk to him after the game and see how he’s doing. It would be a special game [to face Varlamov], but I’m going to focus on my game and these things I can’t let bother me.”
It has been a rough start to the season for Colorado, which will enter the matchup against the Capitals with a 14-17-1 record and, entering Friday’s games, ranked 25th in the NHL. The season has not been much kinder to Varlamov, who signed a three-year, $8.5 million contract with the Avalanche over the summer.
The 23-year-old has remained healthy so far this year but has been hot and cold. Varlamov is 10-13-1 on the season with a .896 save percentage and 3.14 goals against average, and in his most recent outing, he allowed five goals on 34 shots in Colorado’s 5-4 loss to San Jose on Thursday. It is unclear whether Varlamov or veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere will get the nod in net against Washington.
“I don’t know who is going to play against the Capitals,” Varlamov told the Denver Post, “but I’m excited to see this team because I was a member of that team. But, I think, nothing special.”
Alex Ovechkin said he wants to catch up with his countryman and that they may go to dinner Friday night once the Capitals arrive in Denver, but if Varlamov is in net Saturday, the star left wing said he won’t hold back.
“We’re going to try to win the game tomorrow,” Ovechkin said. “No matter who’s in net.”
Washington has an inherent interest in the success or failure of the Avalanche, with the latter resulting in a potentially higher draft pick in the first round. As Colorado struggles, the Capitals’ chances of gaining a lottery pick improve (the NHL draft lottery includes the 14 teams that do not make the playoffs).
While it is months away in June 2012, the upcoming NHL draft is one that General Manager George McPhee and Ross Mahoney, Washington’s director of amateur scouting, believe to hold plenty of top-end talent as well as a dispersion of solid players throughout.
“It’s a very good draft,” McPhee said. “It’s talented, it’s deep — you don’t get these kinds of drafts very often.”
Over the course of franchise history, the Capitals have held two or more selections in the first round 12 times, the most recent being 2008, when they picked Anton Gustafsson (21st overall) and John Carlson (27th). The 2006 draft was the last time they had two picks in the first round that included one in the top 10; they took Nicklas Backstrom (fourth) and Varlamov (23rd) that year.
While players on the Capitals’ roster said they aren’t concerned with how a win could help out the organization’s draft position, Mahoney admitted that it’s impossible not to watch and predict where that pick could come in.
“Now that we have their pick, you’re always tracking to see how they do and see where that pick might be. You have to be prepared for anything,” he said in a recent phone interview from Germany. “As an amateur scout, when there’s more picks for us, particularly high ones, it’s more fun.”
Matt Hendricks skated for the sixth consecutive day Friday in Winnipeg, taking regular work in with the fourth line. The winger has missed four games with an injured right knee but said he feels ready to play. It’s possible he could be in the lineup against the Avalanche.