Ilya Sorokin stays singularly focused on his job in the Islanders' net
Ilya Sorokin knows his one job well.
And it’s becoming apparent that his singular focus on stopping pucks — and preparing to stop pucks — is helping him shine through his first playoff push as the Islanders’ No. 1 goalie.
So don’t ask the 27-year-old Russian about the Islanders’ solid defensive structure or his thoughts on the potential of the Islanders making the playoffs or what’s going on with his teammates in general that fueled an 8-3-1 record in March.
He doesn’t analyze that.
“I’m not focused on the team,” Sorokin said after making 25 saves in Wednesday night’s 2-1 shootout win over the Capitals. “I can’t tell about the team.”
Remember, Sorokin is still teaching himself English. So this was not the potential Vezina Trophy candidate saying he wasn’t paying attention. It was how he conveyed his focus on his one job and that he felt unqualified to speak about anything else.
“I don’t know about structure,” Sorokin said when asked how the Islanders have tightened their game defensively. “[My teammates] do block shots and help me and this is an important thing for me.”
Sorokin, who has started two straight games and 18 of the last 23, improved to 28-19-7 with a 2.34 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. That left him third in the NHL in save percentage, fourth in GAA and ninth in victories. His five shutouts are tied for the league lead.
The Islanders will conclude a three-game road trip with a weekend back-to-back against the Lightning on Saturday night at Amalie Arena and the Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes on Sunday in a potential first-round playoff preview. Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov are likely to split those games.
The Islanders hold the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot with six games remaining. Wednesday’s win improved their chances of qualifying for the playoffs to 94.2%, according to Hockey-Reference.com.
Not that Sorokin — who made seven playoff appearances in 2021 as the Islanders reached the conference finals — is looking ahead.
“I don’t think about this,” he said when asked about the playoffs. “Just one game. I [say] this every interview: No overthinking. Just one day and control what you can control.”
Sorokin’s steady and often spectacular play has given the Islanders a decided edge in the wild-card chase. All the teams chasing them — the Penguins, the Panthers, the Sabres, the Senators and even the Capitals — have had some form of goaltender inconsistency.
Coach Lane Lambert agreed that Sorokin has shown a superior ability to focus on his task alone.
“Well, I’ve never been a goalie, but I think that you have to block everything out and just worry about focusing on what you’re doing,” Lambert said. “It’s a really incredible job to be able to do that. You’re on the ice for 60, 65 minutes, whatever it might be on any given night. I think he does a real good job of that and that’s what helps him have success.
“We’ve been fortunate to have really good goalies here and they’re a great tandem, Varly and Ilya.”