Isles' Semyon Varlamov going back-to-back?
The Islanders will play their 66th game when they host the Blue Jackets on Thursday at UBS Arena, looking to sweep a home-and-home series.
There’s a good chance it will mark the first time Semyon Varlamov will start consecutive games, a good indicator of just how odd a season it’s been for both the goalie and the team.
The Islanders did not practice on Wednesday and issued no update on goalie Ilya Sorokin, who exited Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the visiting Lightning after two periods with an upper-body injury.
Thursday’s game marks the start of yet another back-to-back — the Islanders face the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Friday night — so even if Sorokin is available on Thursday, it’s likely he would be given one more day to recover.
Besides, Varlamov made 42 saves in Tuesday night’s 4-3 win in Columbus and was a key reason the Blue Jackets didn’t complete their rally after the Islanders took a three-goal lead in the second period. The Islanders were outshot 16-3 in a passive third period, but Varlamov allowed only one goal, even with the Blue Jackets skating six-on-four on a late power-play.
That left Varlamov 7-13-2 with a 2.88 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage after missing training camp because of a lingering knee issue and not seeing action until the Islanders’ 10th game.
“He’s proud,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Guys are professional, they are proud. He’s been a quality netminder in this league for a long time so he wasn’t going to pack it in and go, ‘Hey, it’s not my year.’ ”
Varlamov played in 34 of the Islanders’ 41 postseason games the past two seasons in back-to-back runs to the NHL semifinals. He has played at least 57 games three times, including a career-high 63 games for the Avalanche in 2013-14. Tuesday night's game was Varlamov's 24th of the season.
COVID-19’s impact on the Islanders’ schedule earlier in the season has condensed the games in the second half of the season. They are playing a franchise-record 17 games in March (9-6-1 so far) and their final 17 games over 30 days.
Trotz has alternated his goalies through the first 16 games this month.
“Sorokie was healthy and Varly was trying to catch up to the train a little bit so I was giving him one game at a time,” Trotz said. “We’ve had a lot of back-to-backs.”
The Islanders (29-27-9) can pass the Blue Jackets (32-30-5) for fifth place in the Metropolitan Division with a regulation win on Thursday. They are unlikely to make the playoffs — any combination of 17 points lost by the Islanders or gained by the Capitals, holding the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot, will eliminate them— but leapfrogging the Blue Jackets would mean something to the team.
“I think it just comes down to being professionals and having pride,” Mathew Barzal said. “Fans pay money to come watch us play. We’re all getting paid. This is our job. We’re going to come out here, no matter what the circumstances, and work hard.”