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In goal, Boudreau cannot get past Varlamov

Bruce Boudreau says choosing a goalie is "going to be a feel thing until stats can be a determining factor."
Bruce Boudreau says choosing a goalie is "going to be a feel thing until stats can be a determining factor." (Toni L. Sandys)

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Tarik El-Bashir
Saturday, January 1, 2011

PITTSBURGH

It's rarely this easy for Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau. But Semyon Varlamov left him with no choice.

Varlamov will start in goal Saturday in the Winter Classic, Boudreau confirmed Friday, having earned the opportunity after an impressive performance in back-to-back wins over Carolina and Montreal this week. It also means Michal Neuvirth, easily the Capitals' best player over the season's first six weeks and owner of 14 of the team's 22 wins this season, will be relegated to watching from the bench at Heinz Field while his teammates skate in the biggest regular season game in the franchise's 36-year history.

"I can't see how I can't give him the start," Boudreau said after Friday's outdoor practice. "I have all the faith in the world in Neuvy because he's played great. But this is what happens sometimes. You can only play one, so Varly gets the nod."

Neuvirth had been on target to start the NHL's annual outdoor game, and for a while, seemed to have the starter's role on lockdown as well. But the Czech felt a twinge in his groin muscle during the morning skate Sunday in Raleigh, N.C., and left the ice early. He didn't know it at the time, but that bit of caution ended up costing him a start in the Classic, and for now, his hold on the No. 1 job.

"Neuvy was playing great and the day after Christmas he was scheduled to start," Boudreau said. "He came to me and said he felt tight in his groin. So I asked Varly if he was ready and he said, 'Damn sure.' "

"In his way," Boudreau said, squinting his eyes and gritting his teeth as he recalled his conversation with Varlamov. "He said, 'I'm ready.' It's hard to explain in words the determination on his face."

Little has been predictable with the Capitals' goaltending situation since Olie Kolzig's unceremonious departure at the end of the 2008 season. Jose Theodore bridged the gap to Neuvirth and Varlamov. But three months into the season, it's still unclear which of the youngsters Boudreau trusts more. The issue will be an important one as the playoffs approach.

Boudreau has said he's simply waiting for Neuvirth or Varlamov to force his hand. But the past two weeks haven't cleared things up any.


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