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Upon review, preview of Islanders-Penguins goaltending looks correct

Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders eyes the puck

Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders eyes the puck as it is played during overtime in Game 1 of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Penguins at PPG PAINTS Arena on Sunday in Pittsburgh. Credit: Getty Images/Emilee Chinn

You know those position-by-position analyses sportswriters have produced before postseason series since around the time the first Stanley Cup playoff was held in 1894?

They generally prove irrelevant or inaccurate once the games are played. But not always.

Consider the current first-round series between the Islanders and Penguins. It widely was assumed before it started that the Islanders had the edge in goaltending. Then Game 1 confirmed that, in the extreme.

To review: The Islanders’ second-best goalie seems to be better than the Penguins’ first-best goalie.

Poor Tristan Jarry. He sounds more like an ancient Canadian baseball stadium – ask your grandparents – than a modern Canadian goalie. And he was exposed (see what I did there?) on Sunday.

If the Penguins are to have any hope of beating the Islanders four times in six games, he is going to have to be better than he was in the 4-3 overtime loss, in which he allowed a series of savable pucks to go unsaved.

Meanwhile, the man who arguably was the Islanders’ MVP this season, Semyon Varlamov, did not even dress for the game, still nursing a "lower-body injury."

So the Islanders turned to rookie Ilya Sorokin, who in his playoff debut outplayed Jarry. (To be fair, Jarry had only one more game of playoff experience than did Sorokin entering the day.)

Now the question for coach Barry Trotz is whom to start for Game 2 on Tuesday. It would be a tricky decision if Varlamov were fully fit, but there were a couple of hints on Monday that Sorokin will get the nod again.

First, Varlamov spent an hour on the ice during an optional skate in Pittsburgh along with others who did not play in Game 1, while Sorokin joined those who did play in not practicing.

Then, when I asked Trotz about the process by which he will make a decision, he said, "We’ll see where Varly is in terms of health. He’s very close."

Translation: Maybe he at least can dress as the backup.

If Varlamov were 100% healthy, he would have been worth serious consideration. He has more experience and had a better season than did Sorokin, and with a 1-0 series lead, why not get him involved and engaged early?

The guy had seven shutouts and a 2.04 goals-against average in the regular season!

But it looks like Sorokin will be back. What really matters to the Islanders is what Trotz often says, and said again on Monday: That there is no wrong choice between the two.

"The thought process is pretty simple: Whoever we put in net we feel pretty comfortable with and we don’t make any excuses of: This guy is in so we’re not going to be as good," Trotz said. "We feel when we put our goaltenders in there we’re going to be equally as good every night."

The Penguins, meanwhile, have no obvious alternative to Jarry. Their other regular, Casey DeSmith, left practice on Friday with a lower-body injury.

The backup for Game 1, Maxime Lagace, has played in 18 career NHL games and only two in the past three years, including a shutout of Buffalo in the regular-season finale on May 8.

So Jarry was back at it on Monday, trying to right Sunday’s wrongs. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported he worked in practice on facing skaters coming in from the blue line and shooting from the high slot.

Hey, the first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging it.

Coach Mike Sullivan then said he liked Jarry’s mindset and expected him to bounce back in Game 2.

That could well happen. The NHL playoffs usually lack rhyme or reason. But for one game, at least, conventional wisdom proved wise.

New York Sports