TODAY'S PAPER
Good Morning
Good Morning
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Barry Trotz's next call in goal will be crucial for Islanders

Pittsburgh Penguins' Zach Aston-Reese, left, slides into the

Pittsburgh Penguins' Zach Aston-Reese, left, slides into the goal behind Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov, right, during the first period in Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.  Credit: AP/Gene J. Puskar

Such is the reservoir of goodwill Barry Trotz has developed in three seasons with the Islanders that no matter the result, the events of Tuesday night should not be considered a significant event on his performance chart.

But the line on that chart after the Islanders’ 2-1 loss in Game 2 of a first-round playoff series against the Penguins certainly was a jagged one.

It began with the coach surprising many by starting Semyon Varlamov in goal after Ilya Sorokin had beaten the Penguins in Game 1, 4-3 in overtime.

It continued with Varlamov giving up an awful early goal that threatened to make Trotz’s decision look very bad indeed.

It ended with Varlamov settling down, making 43 saves – many of them big ones – and giving the Islanders a chance that their offense failed to cash in on.

Reading the hockey tea leaves on Monday, it seemed Trotz would stick with the rookie for at least one more game. But no.

It was back to Varly, arguably the team MVP this season. When asked to explain his decision, Trotz sounded surprised anyone would be surprised by it.

"Varlamov has been our No. 1 goalie all year," Trotz said. "He’s been outstanding. He’s got seven shutouts. He set team records and he’s fully healthy.

"We wouldn’t be maybe in the playoffs if it wasn’t for Varly’s performance this year. So that’s to me very simple."

Varlamov had been out since May 10 because of a lower body injury, and in the opening minutes he looked as if he might be either rusty or still hurting.

At 3:22 of the opening period, a long, seemingly harmless shot by Bryan Rust after a turnover by Ryan Pulock fluttered over the goaltender’s glove.

"If you talk to Varly, he’ll want that first one back," Trotz said. "Any goaltender would want the first one back, and after that he was outstanding."

Asked whether perhaps the layoff or injury had contributed to the whiff, Trotz said, "He missed the puck. That’s a question for him. He just missed the puck." (Varlamov was not among the players provided for postgame interviews.)

At 13:07 of the first, Pulock was unable to get a body on Jeff Carter, who cruised into the slot and beat Varlamov between his pads to made it 2-0.

Meanwhile, the Penguins’ Tristan Jarry, who was awful in Game 1, looked sharp in turning away every Islanders chance early on.

At 14:44 of the second, Josh Bailey cut the lead to 2-1 with a backhand from the slot over Jarry’s glove, which had been an area of concern for the goalie in Game 1.

But the offense never could quite bail out Trotz and Varlamov.

It says here that Trotz made the right move in goal. Fully healthy, Varlamov is the Islanders’ best, and based on Trotz’s postgame comments it sure sounded as if he will go back to him for Game 3.

Four minutes into Tuesday’s game, that did not seem likely. But 56 game minutes later, it seemed as simple a decision as Trotz portrayed his Game 2 move to be.

One thing the coach needn’t worry about is Varlamov’s state of mind. He repeatedly has praised the Russian for being an easy player to deal with, comfortable in his own skin and full of veteran savvy.

Last year, Trotz benched a tiring Varlamov for Game 7 of a second-round series against the Flyers in favor of Thomas Greiss, who won that game.

Then Greiss was pulled early in Game 1 against the Lightning, and Trotz went right back to Varlamov.

"Varly is low maintenance," Trotz said last week. "He’s calm. He’s had some experience."

Tuesday’s experience was a tough one. But Varlamov proved his mettle by shrugging off his disastrous start to show that he merits another opportunity.

New York Sports