Semyon Varlamov of the Islanders makes a save during the second...

Semyon Varlamov of the Islanders makes a save during the second period against the Flames at UBS Arena on Nov. 20. Credit: Jim McIsaac

A desperate push for wins to save a team’s flagging playoff chances might entice a coach to rely heavily on a hot goalie.

Barry Trotz certainly has one putting together consistently strong performances in Ilya Sorokin. But December’s condensed schedule effectively forces the Islanders coach into more of a goalie rotation after leaning on his No. 1 netminder-in-the-making through the first quarter of the season.

Not that Semyon Varlamov, Sunday night’s starter against Chicago at UBS Arena as the Islanders looked to snap an 0-8-2 skid, is a bad option. After all, the elder of the two Russian goalies was the primary backstop in the Islanders’ back-to-back berths in the NHL semifinals.

Sorokin made 26 saves in Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime loss at Detroit after stopping 33 shots in Thursday night’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Sharks at UBS Arena, marking the first time the Islanders have earned at least a point in consecutive games since wins at Montreal and Winnipeg on Nov. 4-6.

Sorokin started 15 of the Islanders’ first 20 games after Varlamov missed all of training camp and the preseason as he recovered from a knee injury. Varlamov’s first appearance didn’t come until a 5-2 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 7, the Islanders’ 10th game of the season.

The Islanders were the last team in the NHL to use a second goalie this season.

But the Islanders have 14 games in December, the schedule condensed further by the NHL-mandated holiday break from Dec. 24-26. This weekend marked the first of three sets of back-to-back games this month.

"It’s going to be very difficult based on our schedule," Trotz said of being able to settle on one goalie. "I think you’re going to see more of a rotation than you’ve seen in the past (this season) because Varly is healthy.

"Soroky has played most of the games. But he played them on the front end and then we had a long break and then he played a couple of more games and then we had another long break."

The Islanders, between long breaks built into their season-opening, 13-game road trip and having two games postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak, have played the fewest games in the NHL.

Sorokin, despite the Islanders’ struggles to score goals or, at times, play cohesive defense, has managed a 5-6-4 mark with a 2.49 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage.

"He’s been our backbone for the entire year," Mathew Barzal said. "His stats, or his wins and losses, may not reflect how incredible he’s been for us, keeping us in games and making massive stops just sliding across, making backdoor saves in key moments. He’s definitely been the anchor for us this year in what’s been an up and down season so far. And we look for that. Both goalies do a great job for us and Sorokin, especially lately, he’s been incredible."

Varlamov was 0-4-0 with a 3.46 GAA and an .881 save percentage entering Sunday. His offseason rust showed in his early outings.

Now, the trick for Trotz, director of goaltending Mitch Korn and goalie coach Piero Greco, is to keep Sorokin sharp while building up Varlamov’s game. Finding consistency in his game has become a schedule-necessitated must.

Prior to Sunday, Varlamov’s last outing came as he made just 17 saves in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers at UBS Arena on Nov. 24.

"I don’t think our goalies are worn out," Trotz said. "Especially Sorokin, he’s played the most of them. As we start to play forward here, we’ve got too many games that are too condensed that you can ride one goaltender."

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