Who should start in net for Russia: Bobrovsky or Varlamov?

Matt Larkin
bobrovskyvarlamov

“качание на доске” is the best way to describe the competition for Russia’s No. 1 goalie job at the upcoming Sochi Olympics. Every time we blink, the upper hand shifts from Sergei Bobrovsky to Semyon Varlamov, then back again.

To summarize the drama:

  • There was no debate as recently as September. Bobrovsky was the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, fresh off a spectacular season in which he posted a .932 save percentage. Varlamov was a league-average starter with a fairly loose grip on his job. (Bobrovsky: +1)

  • Then a crafty new coach named Patrick Roy gave Varlamov a vote of confidence in Colorado. Like the team as a whole, Varlamov was piping hot in the season’s first month, winning seven of eight starts. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets and Bobrovsky couldn’t duplicate last season’s competitiveness and ‘Bob’ struggled to keep his save percentage north of .900 in October and November. (Varlamov: +1; Bobrovsky: -1)

  • Varlamov was arrested on domestic violence charges Oct. 30. The charges have since been dropped, but it’s fair to assume it was a distraction. Varlamov pre-arrest: 7-1-0, 1.76 goals-against average, .945 SP. Post-arrest: 17-8-5, 2.56 GAA, .920 SP. Regression to the mean, sure, but the splits are interesting nonetheless. (Varlamov: -1)

  • Bobrovsky missed pretty much all of December with a groin strain before returning early this month. (Bobrovsky: -1)

When Jan. 7 rolled around and Russia named each tender to its Sochi squad, it seemed the hockey gods were doing everything in their power to make neither a viable starter. Since then, however, both have caught fire. A look the splits month to month shows each guy trending upward at a crucial moment:

OCTOBER
Bobrovsky: 4-6-0, 2.60 GAA, .915 SP
Varlamov: 7-1-0, 1.78 GAA, .945 SP

NOVEMBER
Bobrovsky: 5-9-2, 3.00 GAA, .896 SP, 1 SO
Varlamov: 6-5-0, 2.40 GAA, .924 SP, 1 SO

DECEMBER
Bobrovsky: 1-0-0, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 SP (44 minutes played)
Varlamov: 4-2-4, 2.80 GAA, .915 SP

JANUARY
Bobrovsky: 6-0-0, 1.95 GAA, .938 SP, 1 SO
Varlamov: 7-1-1, 2.45 GAA, .922 SP

Both goaltenders are peaking at the right time, but Bobrovsky is hotter, playing at a first-star-of-the-month caliber. Before we anoint ‘Bob’ the starter, however, let’s look closer at quality of competition. We all know the West is a far tougher racket and one of the two Russians has fared far better.

VERSUS EASTERN CONFERENCE (Easy mode)
Bobrovsky: 13-6-2, 2.11 GAA, .930 SP, 2 SO
Varlamov: 8-4-1, 2.25 GAA, .928 SP

VERSUS WESTERN CONFERENCE (Difficult mode)
Bobrovsky: 3-5-0, 3.74 GAA, .875 SP
Varlamov: 16-5-4, 2.46 GAA, .924 SP, 1 SO

Given Varlamov has been much better against the deadly West – with a bigger sample size – he can’t be ruled out of the running for the No. 1 job, especially when it should be open season on the Russia net with the nation’s defense corps looking leaky on paper.

We have a dead heat. The battle is close enough that every game still matters. My money remains on Bobrovsky, as you simply can’t sit the reigning Vezina winner when he’s playing his best hockey of the season.

And since pure number crunching can take some fun out of the game, let’s end this analysis with a video of Bobrovsky making a save – with the clip converted to EA Sports’ NHL ’94 mode. Why? Why not?

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin