WINNIPEG — The Islanders’ goaltender rotation will take its first spin of 2021-22 this weekend, the start of what presumably will be a fairly even split of duties between Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov.
Before Saturday night’s game against the Jets, coach Barry Trotz confirmed Varlamov would play his first game this season either here or against the Wild on Sunday night in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Then Sorokin led the Islanders onto the ice for pregame warmups, meaning that Varlamov is slated to be in net Sunday.
Trotz giving Varlamov a turn was no surprise given the back-to-back games. But his confirmation of that plan after the morning skate still was news given that Sorokin started the first eight games while the Islanders waited for Varlamov to recover fully from an undisclosed ailment dating to last season’s playoffs.
Varlamov 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 on using Varlamov until this weekend.
Varlamov is 33 and Sorokin 26, so if the Islanders had to give one or the other a heavy workload early, perhaps it was better that it was the younger player.
The long opening stretch also allowed Sorokin to get even more acclimated to the North American game after a strong rookie season in 2020-21, in which he started 21 of 56 regular-season games.
And remember, Sorokin only faced divisional opponents last season. Now he is getting experience with the full array of NHL opponents and rinks.
Varlamov has seen and done it all in the NHL. The question is how long he will need to shake off the rust after having not played since Game 7 of the NHL semifinals against the Lightning last June.
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.
"There really isn’t a whole lot of difference. We have full trust in both of them."
What about the English-speaking abilities of the two Russians when they have to communicate with teammates? Varlamov is fluent; Sorokin has been taking lessons over the past 1 ½ years but started from scratch.
"Since he’s come here, he’s worked on that and you can hardly tell now; his English is pretty good now," Pulock said.
Sorokin presumably will be the No. 1 goaltender of the near future, if not the present, but having Varlamov around to mentor him and carry a share of the load has allowed Sorokin to be brought along gradually.
"I think he’s made the transition extremely well," Trotz said. "It’s not that he couldn’t stop pucks. It’s the game is different in North American than it is in Russia.
"It’s a little bigger ice. There’s not as much chaos and random shots coming from all over, with lots of bodies, in the NHL versus a more spread-out type of game in Russia."
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 particular opponents and the way the schedule flows.
"If a guy is in rhythm," Trotz said, "we try to keep him in the rhythm."
Varlamov will get his first opportunity to get into one on Sunday night.