Really, there’s no telling whether Semyon Varlamov is going to make a third straight start and fourth straight appearance — both would be a first for an Islanders goalie this season — let alone be selected as an All-Star replacement for injured Blue Jackets netminder Joonas Korpisalo later this month.
But Varlamov’s recent play in his first season with the Islanders would suggest either is a possibility.
“In his games, he looks more comfortable on a consistent basis than maybe earlier in the year,” coach Barry Trotz said after Wednesday’s practice in East Meadow. “And that’s because he’s been around. He’s worked with the goaltending coaches. He’s seen how the group in front of him plays. It becomes more natural for him.”
The Islanders face the Devils for the first time this season on Thursday night at NYCB Live’s Nassual Coliseum — the teams also play Tuesday at New Jersey — after completing a 2-1-0 road trip with a 4-3 win at Washington on Tuesday afternoon.
Varlamov started both victories on the trip, making 25 saves in a 3-1 win at Minnesota on Sunday and 36 saves, including 18 in the third period, against the Capitals. He stopped 17 of 19 shots after relieving Thomas Greiss in the first period of Friday’s 5-2 loss at Chicago.
He has started four of the Islanders’ last six games, improving to 14-3-3 with a 2.43 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage while Greiss is 11-7-0 with a 2.58 GAA and a .919 save percentage. Trotz alternated the goalies for a franchise-record 33 games to start the season.
Trotz, as is his practice, did not indicate who would start against the Devils.
“When I have an opportunity to play, I play,” Varlamov said. “It’s all up to the coaching staff.”
It will be up to the NHL’s Hockey Operations Department whether Varlamov gets to participate in the NHL All-Star Weekend, Jan. 24-25 in St. Louis.
The Capitals’ Braden Holtby (17-7-4, 2.99 GAA, .902 save percentage) and Korpisalo (17-10-4, 2.49 GAA, .913 save percentage) were selected as the Metropolitan Division goalies for the three-on-three tournament. But the Blue Jackets announced on Tuesday Korpisalo would miss four to six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus suffered on Sunday against the Blackhawks.
He hasn’t officially been ruled out of the All-Star Game yet, but it is highly doubtful he will participate.
Glancing around the Metropolitan, the top candidates to replace Korpisalo would seem to be Varlamov or the Penguins’ Tristan Jarry (13-5-0, 1.88 GAA, .938 save percentage), who has leapfrogged Matt Murray the past month. Perhaps the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist would be a sentimental choice, even though he splits time with Alexandar Georgiev.
“It’s three weeks ahead, a lot of things can change in three weeks,” said Varlamov, in his 12th NHL season. “I think, for every player, it’s an honor to participate in the All-Star Game. I’ve never been there. But there’s no point in talking about it, either. I don’t know what to say.”
Which is fine. His play will ultimately speak for itself.