Goaltending for the New York Islanders has been a strongsuit in recent years.
With veteran Semyon Varlamov continuing where he left off from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Ilya Sorokin seems to be developing exponentially at the NHL level, Head Coach Barry Trotz has another tandem brewing.
On Tuesday night, Ilya Sorokin picked up his first National Hockey League victory and his first career NHL shutout as he denied all twenty shots thrown his way by the Buffalo Sabres. From start number one of his career to start four, he has improved drastically.
He was just electric in the win and seemingly bailed his team out the entirety of the night. It was a game to remember and one that the young netminder will look to build on when he gets his next opportunity.
On Monday, Semyon Varlamov was brilliant yet again, as he stopped 20 in the 3-1 victory. His biggest save came against Sabres forwards Victor Olofsson, which you can view for yourself below and please do because it is pretty special.
— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) February 16, 2021
The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.
Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin have played integral parts in the Islanders’ ability to collect points over their last eight games.
On the Islanders’ eight-game point streak, Varlamov has started six of those games, as he has posted a 4-0-2 record with a 1.50 GAA with a .921 SV%. Sorokin has received two starts, as he has posted a 1-0-1 record, with a 2.00 GAA and a .931 SV%.
To dive deeper into how good these two have been over this stretch, Varlamov has stopped 89.6% of higher danger chances he has faced (52 of 58), while Sorokin has stopped 90.47% (19 of 21). It is safe to say that the Islanders have been bailed out by their netminders often this season and have been vital reasons for the wins and the points.
Last season, particularly in the second half, Head Coach Barry Trotz saw his tandem fall apart. Thomas Greiss struggled mightily post All-Star break, while Varlamov was solid as he played the majority of games before the league’s hiatus. When the Playoffs began, Varlamov was the starter and played well before showing signs of fatigue against the Philadelphia Flyers. Once he finally allowed a goal in Game Two, after setting an Islanders postseason shutout streak record, Greiss was thrown into the fire and played well despite losing that game in overtime.
When it came to Game 7 of this series, Greiss got the nod as he shutout the Flyers as the Islanders advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1993. While Varlamov would start all games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the series loss was not his fault. He had been a rock all postseason long, but the Islanders just ran into a better hockey club.
Heading into this season, given the shortened schedule and the number of games needed to be played, tandems would play a pivotal role in making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the Islanders, there was a significant question mark as prospects are prospects until they can prove themselves at the NHL level.
After his first two starts, it seemed it could take longer, meaning Varlamov would have to be relied on heavily. Even though the veteran has done his job and more this season, Sorokin can take some of the pressure off his shoulders.
There is now confidence that I do not believe was there previously with Sorokin. That is not a knock on Sorokin’s play, but the Islanders in front of him were failing to play well enough in their own zone, and their offense was just not there when the rookie was in between the pipes. And that was leading to a lack of points. Given this short season, it would have been hard to give Sorokin chances if Varlamov was getting the best out of his team.
But now that the Islanders see they can win with him in net, they can score goals, which is a major confidence boost for all the parties involved. Because Varlamov has been so good, it is still difficult to give away starts to Sorokin, especially as the Islanders look to extend their point streak as far as they can. Last year, we saw the importance of a streak, as without the Islanders’ one earlier in the season, making the Playoffs would not have come to fruition.
Semyon Varlamov is in goal tonight when the puck drops against the Pittsburgh Penguins. I would not be shocked to see Ilya Sorokin back in net sooner than later as both netminders give the New York Islanders a chance to win each night.