IIya Sorokin again comes up big as Islanders shut out Winnipeg
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Islanders’ goaltender rotation will take its first spin of 2021-22 this weekend.
But before Semyon Varlamov gets his first start against the Wild in Minnesota on Sunday night, Ilya Sorokin got the nod for the ninth time in a row Saturday against the Jets at Canada Life Centre and made the most of it.
Sorokin shut out Winnipeg, 2-0, extending the Islanders’ point streak to seven games and ending the Jets’ at eight. The Islanders are 5-2-2 in their season-opening stretch of 13 road games.
"He’s so steady back there," Anders Lee said of the 26-year-old Russian goalie. "You can just see it in his eyes how calm he is back there, how poised he is. He’s never out of a save."
Sorokin made 24 saves in his third shutout of the season. Coach Barry Trotz noted that he lost one with less than a minute left against Chicago and another with less than five minutes left against the Canadiens.
"He could have five shutouts," Trotz said.
Sorokin had plenty of help, including 19 blocked shots. He credited his teammates for that, as well as for giving the Jets (6-3-2) only one power play, in the final minutes of the third period.
The Islanders scored first for the seventh game in a row. Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey did some hard work behind the net before Bailey found Lee in front at 3:12 of the first period.
The Jets had plenty of chances to tie it after that, including when Mark Scheifele fired wide when offered a wide-open net as Sorokin went sprawling early in the second period.
But the Islanders clamped down after Brock Nelson scored his fifth goal in two games 47 seconds into the third period, beating Jets goalie Eric Comrie.
Trotz praised the four-line effort, especially a bounce-back performance from the top line. Barzal had several scoring chances, including hitting the crossbar on a breakaway.
Sorokin said he feels good after the nine-game stretch, thanks in part to the break that followed the long season-opening trip. But now it is time for Varlamov to get his chance.
Varlamov has not played since Game 7 of last season’s semifinals against the Lightning because of an ailment the team has not explained in detail.
He pronounced himself ready to go on Oct. 28, but with the Islanders going through a sparse stretch of games and Sorokin playing well, Trotz held off until this weekend.
The nine games also allowed Sorokin to get even more acclimated to the North American style after a strong rookie season in 2020-21 in which he started 21 of 56 regular-season games.
And remember, Sorokin faced only divisional opponents last season. Now he is getting experience against the full array of NHL opponents and rinks.
The question for Varlamov is how long he will need to shake off the rust. He said on Oct. 28 that he was not sure himself how things would go.
Does it make any difference to the players in front of them which goalie starts, simply as a matter of style or communication?
"Honestly, not really," defenseman Ryan Pulock said. "They’re pretty similar. They bring that calmness to us, both of them. We rely on them, and they keep us in games every night."
Sorokin presumably will be the No. 1 goalie of the near future, if not the present, but having Varlamov around to mentor him and carry a share of the load is a plus.
Asked what goes into deciding the order in which the goalies will appear in a back-to-back situation, Trotz said there are a variety of factors, including goalies’ records against opponents and the way the schedule flows.
"If a guy is in rhythm," Trotz said, "we try to keep him in the rhythm."
Sorokin is in one. Varlamov will get his first opportunity to get into one on Sunday night.