Surely, Barry Trotz was asked, it can’t be easy choosing which goalie to start with both Semyon Varlamov and rookie Ilya Sorokin playing well. Surely, this can’t be a simple decision anymore, not like at the beginning of the season, when the Islanders coach relied heavily upon his veteran to give Sorokin time to acclimate to life in North America.
"If they’re both playing well, why couldn’t it be?" the Islanders coach responded.
So, surely, Trotz did little hand-wringing in going back to Varlamov for Tuesday night’s game against the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum after Sorokin, in his second straight solid start, made 30 saves in Sunday’s 1-0 overtime win in Philadelphia for his third shutout.
"They’ve both been great," Trotz said. "I’ve been pretty fortunate. I’ve got two No. 1s, in a sense, both playing well. Varly, look at his last game, he gave us a chance to hang around in the first period in Boston. Ilya, his last game was real strong for us. They’re both top-end goaltenders, that’s the way I feel about them."
Varlamov entered Tuesday 16-9-3 with a 2.24 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. He made a season-high 41 saves in his previous start, Thursday’s 4-1 loss in Boston in which the Islanders were outchanced, 33-11, in the first period.
Sorokin, who is the first NHL goalie to win his first eight home starts in one season, was 12-4-1 with a 2.02 GAA and a .922 percentage. Only five rookie goalies in NHL history have had longer home winning streaks.
Varlamov was 2-1-0 with two shutouts, a 1.02 GAA and a .966 save percentage against the Rangers. Sorokin was 0-1-1 with a 3.47 GAA and an .879 save percentage. But, that includes the Rangers’ 5-0 win at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 16, the teams’ second game of the season, when Sorokin was forced to make his NHL debut after Varlamov was hurt during pre-game warmups.
Sorokin started the previous entry in the New York rivalry, making 24 saves in the Islanders’ 3-2 overtime win on April 11. It marked his first goalie matchup against the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin, his close friend, former national team teammate and KHL rival.
"He’s been playing amazing," defenseman Adam Pelech said. "Ever since that first game, which was a really tough situation for him coming in at the last second, he’s played outstanding. It’s a great situation to be in. We have two guys who are playing really well. They’ve definitely stolen a few for us lately."
Varlamov started 16 of the Islanders’ first 20 games.
The time in net has been split fairly evenly since between the two.
"The plan all year was Varly would get the bulk and allow Ilya to get used to the league, get used to North America," Trotz said. "Get comfortable in all those aspects to the point where you had two very capable goaltenders and then you’re going to go a little bit by feel, a little bit by freshness, how they’re feeling. I think we’re right on plan right now."
Notes & quotes: Josh Bailey returned after missing two games with an undisclosed injury as rookie Oliver Wahlstrom was a healthy scratch…Defenseman Noah Dobson was back in for Braydon Coburn after being a healthy scratch on Sunday… Cal Clutterbuck (undisclosed) missed his third straight game …The Islanders announced 80% of suite and club seating has been sold for UBS Arena, which is targeted to open in November. The team is projecting the premium seats will sell out by this summer…Defenseman Ryan Pulock played in his 240th straight game, the ninth longest streak in team history.
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