Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin watches the puck sail wide of...

Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin watches the puck sail wide of the net during the third period of the team's NHL game against the Ducks in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday. Credit: AP/Alex Gallardo

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Ilya Sorokin likes the playing time, but the Islanders’ No. 1 goalie would like to play better.

Sorokin guarded the starter’s net during Friday’s practice and was the first goalie off the ice, a strong indication that he’ll get the call when the Islanders conclude a three-game California swing against the Sharks on Saturday night at SAP Center.

“I feel in shape,” Sorokin told Newsday. “I like playing games.”

The Islanders (35-27-8) are in a tight battle to retain an Eastern Conference wild-card spot. They’re tied in points with the Penguins, who have played two fewer games, and three points ahead of the Panthers, who also have played two fewer games. So coach Lane Lambert appears to be leaning on Sorokin for these much-needed points.

Sorokin stopped 32 of 37 shots in Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Kings and 20 of 23 shots in Wednesday’s 6-3 win over the Ducks. Lambert started him in back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 22-23. Semyon Varlamov was injured then but is available now.

“No, I’m not surprised. It’s the coach’s choice,” Sorokin said. “I should always be ready. I played two games. Physically, I feel good, but it’s not my best two games.”

Sorokin’s save percentage of .883 for the two games is well below his season’s average of .923, which ranks third in the NHL.

Sorokin said one issue might be not being aggressive enough in the crease.

“Sometimes when players stand behind me, I play too much in the crease,” he said. “In these moments, I shouldn’t lose my position.”

“He’s an incredible goaltender,” defenseman Noah Dobson said. “Each individual has their own standard on where they believe their game should be at. From our side of view, he didn’t have two bad games. But that’s his opinion. I think it just shows the expectations he has for himself and what allows him to be great.”

The Islanders have 12 games remaining in the regular season, including Saturday, with just two more sets of back-to-back games.

Lambert was able to start Sorokin back-to-back in Los Angeles and Anaheim because there were two days before the next game. That’s not the case for the next back-to-back, as the Islanders are in Columbus on April 24 before hosting the Sabres the next day and the Devils on April 27.

Sorokin could get both ends of the last back-to-back, with the Islanders at Tampa Bay on April 2 and at Carolina the next day with three days off before their following game.

If Lambert chooses to really ride Sorokin down the stretch, he could play 11 of the final 12 games.

“I see him do the same thing he does for us every night, and that’s give us a chance to win,” Lambert said. “He can be critical of his game and that’s good.”

Notes & quotes: Casey Cizikas and Josh Bailey both missed practice because of a non-COVID-19 illness. Lambert said both could be available on Saturday. Bailey was a healthy scratch against the Ducks.

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