Ilya Sorokin hasn’t started often and the Islanders haven’t shut down the Penguins’ potent trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang with consistency.
But the Russian rookie, making his first start at Nassau Coliseum and only his fifth of the season, backstopped a strong defensive effort with 20 saves as the Islanders closed a 3-0-1 homestand with a 2-0 win over the Penguins on Sunday.
"The defense made a lot of blocked shots and gave a lot of help and energy to me," Sorokin said after his second straight shutout, including a 30-save effort in a 3-0 win in Buffalo on Feb. 16. "It’s all teamwork."
The Islanders, who went 2-for-5 on the power play on goals by rookie Oliver Wahlstrom and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, finished 2-2-2 against the Penguins in February, getting their first win since a 4-3 victory on Feb. 6 at the Coliseum.
According to team statistician Eric Hornick, Sorokin — who had 43 shutouts in five All-Star seasons in the KHL — became the second Islanders rookie goalie with back-to-back shutouts, joining Chico Resch in 1975. The Islanders shut out the Penguins for the first time since Kelly Hrudey did so on Jan. 9, 1986.
"It’s been a pleasure to play with him," Josh Bailey said. "He’s a real competitor who works incredibly hard."
The Penguins earned a 4-3 overtime win Saturday at the Coliseum as the Islanders were unable to hold a 2-0 lead and Letang had his second straight two-goal game against them.
Crosby has seven of his 18 points, Letang seven of his 14 and Malkin six of his 12 this season against the Islanders, but the trio totaled only five shots on Sunday. Brock Nelson’s line with Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier shadowed Crosby’s line and Mathew Barzal’s line with Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle had the defensive assignment against Malkin’s line.
"It was motivation for us," said Pageau, whose power-play one-timer from the right circle made it 2-0 at 14:56 of the second period. "Their three key guys have been producing offensively. It was in our game plan to take care of those three players and the rest of the team that’s been playing some good hockey. I thought we were the better team today. Ilya in net was outstanding when we needed him and special teams made the difference tonight."
The Islanders killed off both Pittsburgh power plays despite six man-advantage shots.
Wahlstrom’s power-play one-timer from the left circle opened the scoring with 39.7 seconds left in the first period.
The Penguins’ Casey DeSmith (28 saves) made his first start since a 4-3 shootout win over the Islanders on Feb. 11.
Sorokin was starting for the third straight time in the second game of a back-to-back set. He said going from full-time KHL starter to Semyon Varlamov’s backup has not been a tough adjustment.
"We practice a lot," Sorokin said. "If you’re not playing, you work in practice 100% and be ready every day. I don’t care about this. It’s a situation where we have a first goalie with Varly and I should help him."
The Islanders certainly eased Sorokin into his first home start, outshooting Pittsburgh 9-2 in the first period. The Penguins didn’t get their first shot until Sorokin easily gloved defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph’s soft wrister from the left at 15:51.
"If you talk to any goaltender or goaltending coach, they’ll tell you one of the toughest games to play is when you haven’t been busy," coach Barry Trotz said. "It’s easy to sort of let your mind wander. I think Ilya did a really good job."