Ilya Sorokin started the Islanders’ preseason opener against the Rangers on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, a little more than eight months after the goalie’s rocky NHL debut in the building.
But the tough circumstances surrounding that start seems like much longer ago after Sorokin, a five-time KHL All-Star and playoff MVP, who played like a seasoned veteran through much of his very successful rookie campaign.
There was no drop off in his first-ever NHL preseason game. He stopped all 13 shots he faced in 22:38 as the Islanders began their six-game preseason schedule with a convincing 4-0 win.
"He came over from playing on a different size rink, a different style league, so it’s going to take some adjusting," said Cal Clutterbuck, who had a goal and two assists. "The adjustment period, I don’t think it took him that long. It’s good to see him come back from the summer and still be sharp."
That included going into a split to deny Chris Kreider with his left pad on a shorthanded breakaway at 6:38 of the first period and using his shoulder to knock away Alexis Lafreniere’s try from below the right circle in the first minute of the second period.
The 26-year-old again is expected to share the net this season with fellow Russian Semyon Varlamov, who is dealing with soreness and has not skated since training camp opened on Thursday.
Sorokin first joined the Islanders for the resumption of the 2019-20 season played in playoff bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, but was ineligible to play.
"For Ilya, going through a regular training camp and not being part of the taxi squad or the bubble squad, or whatever we had in Toronto, I just think it makes it normal," coach Barry Trotz said. "Now, getting into, hopefully, a normal NHL season will be the next step for him."
Sorokin went 13-6-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage and three shutouts last season and 4-1 with a 2.79 GAA and .922 save percentage in the playoffs.
Sorokin’s debut was the outlier.
He allowed five goals on 32 shots in a 5-0 loss to the Rangers at the Garden on Jan. 16, stepping in as the starter after Varlamov was hurt in pregame warmups.
He agreed to a three-year, $12 million extension in the offseason as a restricted free agent.
Notes & quotes: Jakub Skarek made 15 saves after relieving Sorokin at 12:44 of the second period . . . Clutterbuck sprung Casey Cizikas to the crease for a four-on-three power-play goal to make it 2-0 at 17:06 of the first period, then battled to the crease from the corner for a backhander to make it 3-0 at 12:44 of the second period. Ross Johnston knocked in Clutterbuck’s centering feed to the crease to make it 4-0 at 4:50 of the third period . . . Defenseman Erik Gustafsson, in training camp on a professional tryout offer, had two assists . . . Brock Nelson opened the scoring at 11:28 of the first period, batting in his own rebound at the left post off Josh Bailey’s feed.