If Ilya Sorokin lives up to the hype, or even comes reasonably close, his NHL debut will seem like a blip, a learning experience on the way to a good Islanders career.
Because Game No. 1 — an unexpected outing after intended starter Semyon Varlamov was injured in pregame warmups when he was hit in the throat by teammate Cal Clutterbuck’s shot — was an abysmal showing by the Islanders.
"We were junk today," said a disgusted coach Barry Trotz, who did not have an immediate update on Varlamov.
The Islanders were sloppy, soft, unfocused and undisciplined in a 5-0 loss to the Rangers on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, just two nights after Varlamov made 24 saves in a dominating 4-0 win over the Blueshirts in the season opener for both teams in the same building.
Sorokin made 27 saves, but two of the goals he allowed came as the result of improper positioning or technique.
"We’ve got to play better in front of Ilya," Anders Lee said. "He deserves much better than that."
"We didn’t help him," defenseman Ryan Pulock said. "Too many turnovers. We lost puck battles and gave them Grade A opportunities. We hung him out to dry at times."
That Sorokin had to play at all frustrated Trotz. Clutterbuck’s warmup shot got underneath Varlamov’s mask and the goalie was attended to on the ice before being led to the team’s room.
"We put [Sorokin] in a tough circumstance," Trotz said. "We did it to ourselves injuring Varly in warmups. To me, it’s almost unacceptable [shooting high in warmups]. It’s like running your quarterback over in warmups. It wasn’t fair to Ilya. It wasn’t fair to Varly. It carried over to the game. The first four goals were all things we did."
Sorokin’s downer debut was even more disappointing because of how long the Islanders have been waiting for him. At times, it seemed he might never don an Islanders jersey. Drafted in the third round in 2014, he spent five seasons as a KHL All-Star with CSKA Moscow, building a reputation as perhaps the best goalie not playing in the NHL.
Even when Sorokin finally joined the Islanders this past summer to work with them in the postseason bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, he was ineligible to play.
Sorokin, the first goalie in Islanders history to debut against the Rangers, turned aside the first NHL shot he faced, a wrister from defenseman Adam Fox at 1:34 of the first period.
But the Rangers took a 1-0 lead on their second shot as defenseman Noah Dobson’s turnover led to Pavel Buchnevich’s two-on-one goal. He beat Sorokin between his glove and his body on a shot he probably should have handled.
Artemi Panarin’s breakaway goal gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead at 13:46 of the first period.
Buchnevich made it 3-0 at 5:57 of the second period on a high, hard shot from the left. Sorokin did not cut off the angle, instead dropping to his right knee and leaving the upper far side of the net unguarded.
Another turnover by Dobson led to Kaapo Kakko’s one-timer from the right circle past an outstretched Sorokin for a 4-0 lead at 15:24 of the second period. Panarin’s power-play goal at 15:56 of the third period — he was left wide open to Sorokin’s right — completed the scoring.
Meanwhile, Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev (23 saves) hardly faced any quality chances.
"When you go into a game and see your goalie go down, it’s not easy," center Casey Cizikas said. "But you’ve got to be ready when that puck drops. There’s no excuses. We left Ilya out to dry."