The Islanders opened practice for their first-round playoff series against the Penguins on Wednesday. Semyon Varlamov did not.
The presumed Game 1 goalie was given a maintenance day off from the team’s session at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow and also did not skate on his own. Coach Barry Trotz listed him as day-to-day.
But Trotz also insisted he anticipates Varlamov — who exited Monday’s season-finale in Boston after two periods with what the coach termed a strain — being ready to start the playoffs. The series is expected to get underway either Saturday or Sunday in Pittsburgh.
"I don’t have any concerns that he’s not going to be ready for the series," Trotz said. "We’re just being cautious. He worked on some treatment and did some stuff like that. We’ll see what he feels [Thursday]."
Varlamov went 19-11-4 this season, setting a team record with his 2.04 goals-against average and matching Chico Resch’s team-record seven shutouts. Varlamov’s .929 save percentage and his GAA were both career bests.
Last season, his first with the Islanders after eight with the Avalanche and three with the Capitals, Varlamov went 11-7-0 with a 2.14 GAA and .921 save percentage in the playoffs as the Islanders reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1993.
The three other goalies in this series, the Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin and the Penguins’ Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith, have a combined one game of NHL playoff experience. Cory Schneider, the former Devils’ No. 1 goalie who has Stanley Cup Final experience with the Canucks, is the Islanders’ third goalie but did not play an NHL minute this season.
So, yes, whether or not Varlamov is healthy for Game 1 is a significant factor in the series.
"Varly is just low maintenance," Trotz said. "He’s calm. He’s had some experiences good and bad in the playoffs. It can’t hurt having that experience."
Which is not to say the Islanders are sunk if Varlamov remains unavailable at the start of the series.
Sorokin, the highly-touted Russian rookie who was a KHL all-star the past five seasons and led CSKA Moscow to that league’s championship while being named the playoff MVP in 2019, has lived up to the hype surrounding his arrival in North America.
He went 13-6-3 — including eight wins at Nassau Coliseum — with a 2.17 GAA and .918 save percentage in his first NHL season.
"He’s been a pro for a long time," defenseman Adam Pelech said. "He acclimated right away. Right off the bat we could tell that he was going to be a great goalie and a huge part of this team and he has been. We have tons of confidence in both of our goalies."
Sorokin was with the Islanders in last season’s playoff bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton and practicing, though he was ineligible to play.
Cal Clutterbuck said Sorokin immediately impressed his new teammates.
"He's just extremely talented and he's got a fantastic personality," Clutterbuck said. "That experience in the bubble last year for him was, I'm sure, great for him to get used to the guys and everything. But he had a lot of work to do. He was taking English lessons a couple hours a day. While the rest of us were just hanging out, playing cards and getting our work done at the rink, he was trying to get accustomed to a different size rink.
"That couldn’t have been an easy couple months for him. But he really went to work. He went to work learning English and he went to work adapting his game."