The Washington Capitals have recalled defenseman Brian Pothier and goaltender Simeon Varlamov from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL) and assigned goaltender Michal Neuvirth to Hershey, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.
Pothier, 31, is a third-year Capital who suffered a concussion Jan. 3, 2008, at Boston and missed the remainder of the season and has not played in the NHL this season. He recently completed a four-game conditioning stint with the Bears and is available to make his season debut with the Capitals tomorrow night in Atlanta, the same city where he made his NHL debut nearly eight years ago (April 3, 2001, as a Thrasher).
The 6’0”, 200-pound native of New Bedford, Mass., is a veteran of seven NHL seasons and has compiled 100 points (20 goals, 80 assists) in 292 career games. In his only full season with the Capitals, 2006-07, he led all club defensemen in points (28) and assists (25) and led the team in ice time (23:59 per game) while appearing in 72 games.
Varlamov, 20, is a first-year pro who stands 6’1”, 201 pounds. He has compiled an 18-6-1 record in Hershey this season and has two shutouts, a .910 save percentage and a 2.47 goals-against average (GAA). Varlamov is 2-0-0 with the Capitals this year. He made his NHL debut in Montreal on Dec. 13 and beat the Canadiens, 2-1, to become the youngest Russian-born goaltender to make an NHL start and the first NHL goalie in more than 30 years to win his debut at Montreal (since Hardy Astrom, New York Rangers, on Feb. 25, 1978). He made 32 saves in Montreal and 29 saves in a 4-2 win against St. Louis on Dec. 18.
The Samara, Russia, native was the Capitals’ first-round choice, 23rd overall, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He played in 44 games for Yaroslavl in the Russian Super League last year, posting three shutouts and a 2.45 GAA. Varlamov was selected to Russia’s 2008 World Championship team but missed the competition because of an injury.
Neuvirth is a first-year pro who stands 6’1”, 199 pounds. He returns to Hershey after dressing 19 games for Washington. The 20-year-old saw action in five games and has a 2-1-0 NHL record. He made his NHL debut on Feb. 14 in Tampa Bay and defeated the Lightning, 5-1. The Usi Labem, Czech Republic, native was the Capitals’ second-round choice, 34th overall, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
Comments and Thoughts: This is good news for the Caps as Pothier appears to have come through his conditioning stint okay, so far. Pothier will count a pro-rated $2.5M against the salary cap making things tight again for the team money wise. The Caps will now have 7 defensemen up for their upcoming 4 game road trip, all against the Southeast Division, that starts on Monday in Atlanta. From Atlanta they go to Florida on Tuesday to face a desperate Panthers hockey team that currently sits in 9th place in the Eastern Conference standings, just a point behind 8th place Carolina, who has played two more games than Florida.
As for Varlamov, he is now recoverd from a knee injury and seeing that he is the better of the two goaltending prospects (he was drafted in the first round of 2006 while Neuvirth went in the second round) it makes sense that he will be with the team until backup goalie Brent Johnson is recovered from hip surgery. With the Caps playing back to back games starting tomorrow you can expect him to play one of the two games. My guess is the first game in Atlanta.
Speaking of the Thrashers, they may be without their top player, Ilya Kovalchuk, who missed Saturday’s game against Buffalo due to an upper body injury. Thrashers GM Don Waddell was quoted as saying that since Atlanta is out of the playoff picture they were going to be extra careful with Kovalchuk’s injury so Washington may be lucky and not have to face #17, who generally plays very well against the Caps. Kovalchuk has one more season on his contract at just under $6.4M so this off-season will be a key one for Waddell and the Thrashers to put some players around the talented Russian. If they can’t get the former number one overall NHL draft pick to re-sign, and they were unable to convince Marian Hossa to commit long term to Atlanta last year and that is why they traded him to Pittsburgh, then the owners in Atlanta might as well pack up that franchise and go home.
The Thrashers under first year Coach John Anderson have been playing much better lately and rallied from a 3-1 third period deficit on Saturday to beat Buffalo in the shootout, 4-3. That was Atlanta’s fifth straight win and goalie Kari Lehtonen is playing outstanding in goal. The Thrashers are 9-3-1 in their last 12 games so Washington is getting a hot team that can play loose since they have no pressure on them. On the flip side, Washington is in good shape overall with the Southeast Division all but decided, however, their focus needs to be on playing more responsively in regards to their own end of the rink like they did in two road wins last week. They can’t go out and play pond hockey like they did in the second period against the Hurricanes on Saturday otherwise the Caps could end up with a loss in Atlanta like they suffered on opening night (a 7-4 defeat in a crazy, wide open game).