Semyon Varlamov sharp early in first start, but Islanders lose to Wild
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Different goalie, different result.
Not that Semyon Varlamov’s coach or teammates blamed him for the Islanders’ 5-2 loss to the Wild on Sunday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
On the contrary, they praised his effort in his first game action in 4 ½ months.
"I thought Varly was great," Matt Martin said. "Varly was Varly. All the talk about him being rusty, I didn’t think he looked all that rusty at all . . . He gave us a chance to win."
He did, but the Wild (8-3-0) took charge in the third period, which began with the Islanders leading 2-1.
Then poof, two quick goals and two empty-netters ended the Islanders’ point streak at seven games. They are 5-3-2 and have three games left in their season-opening 13-game stretch of road games.
Varlamov, who made 34 saves, last played on June 25, when the Islanders lost to the Lightning, 1-0, in Game 7 of an NHL semifinal.
During the playoffs he suffered an injury about which the team has offered few details and which caused him to miss all of training camp.
He was ready to play for the past week-plus, but Barry Trotz waited until the weekend’s back-to-back games to give him the nod and Ilya Sorokin a break.
Sorokin, who started the first nine games, has three shutouts and lost two other potential shutouts late in games.
"I thought Varly was fine," said Trotz, who said the goalie could have made a quicker decision on the first Wild goal, the sort of thing that will come with more playing time. "For the most part, I thought he was good."
Said Mathew Barzal, "He was definitely up to the task. It’s nice to see him back doing his thing in net."
Varlamov looked comfortable in making 14 saves during a first period that ended with the Islanders leading 1-0.
The score came on a delayed penalty as Zdeno Chara took a long shot and Anders Lee gathered the puck in the slot and put it past goalie Kaapo Kahkonen for the first of his two goals.
It was the second night in a row that Lee — who grew up in suburban Minneapolis — scored the game’s first goal. It was the eighth game in a row in which the Islanders scored first.
The Wild tied it at 1 midway through the second.
Varlamov made a big stop on Nick Bjugstad in front, but Brandon Duhaime picked up the loose puck, retreated to the right faceoff circle and found the net as the puck caromed in off Bjugstad, who received credit for the goal.
The Islanders did not wait long to answer. On a two-on-one break, Barzal fed Lee, who beat Kahkonen to his stick side at 12:04 to make it 2-1.
The Wild tied it at 2-2 at 7:17 of the third as Ryan Hartman beat Varlamov high off a rebound. Then Duhaime scored at 9:18 from the slot on a shot that might have taken a funny bounce off Ryan Pulock’s stick.
Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba added empty-net goals.
The Islanders felt good about their play for the first two periods, much less so about the third.
Said Martin, "We don’t give up a lot of leads going into the third period the last three years, but their crowd was behind them. They scored a couple of nice goals and we weren’t able to get one back."
Before the game, Trotz said he was confident Varlamov would handle his return smoothly.
"If we can keep it as controlled as we can and predictable for him, then I think he’ll be great," Trotz said. "But it’s like anything. You haven’t played for a long time, so you’re always wondering. But you get a couple of saves, you get a couple of shots, it’s going to be the constant reps of staying in the game."
Varlamov got his reps, but the Wild got the victory.
Lee does well in return. Lee, who is from Minnesota, drew cheers from a group of friends and relatives in the stands.
"It’s always special to play in front of family and friends," he said. "A lot of people had a part in me getting to this point, so you get to kind of share in all those moments that lead up to being able to play in the NHL.
"To be able to share a night like this in front of them is always special. You just want to come in here in front of friends and family and get a win, but we came up short."