2. 2/28: Sorokin’s 2nd Shutout, and the Case for Returning to a Goalie Rotation
Speaking of young, first-year NHL’ers making an impact, Ilya Sorokin’s second shutout in as many games should have New York Islanders fans abuzz. I was a little nervous for Sorokin entering tonight’s game.
Against a Pittsburgh team who had seemingly owned the Islanders to this point, and having waited nearly two weeks between starts, I thought the potential for a Sorokin slip-up was there. But, it didn’t happen that way. Sorokin looked focused despite a spaced-out workload in this one and earned the second shutout of his NHL career because of it.
It should start to raise a specific question about the Islanders goalie situation, and I’m not insinuating that Sorokin needs to take over the lion’s share of starting duties because of one off-night from Semyon Varlamov on Saturday.
But, I don’t think it’s crazy to argue Varly’s off-night could be a symptom of a greater problem. Namely, how heavily Barry Trotz had relied upon his elder goaltender throughout the month of February. I mean, the Islanders played ten games in February, and Sorokin only started twice the whole month.
Barry Trotz won’t have the luxury of doing that in March, as the Islanders don’t have consecutive days off until the first week of April. That is an insanely heavy workload on the horizon, but it’s the reality of playing a truncated NHL schedule, and it’s something every team will have to face.
For Trotz and the Islanders, the packed schedule will mean returning to something more akin to the 1/1A goalie tandem the Islanders rolled in 2019-20 when Thomas Greiss was still an Islander. Remember, the Islanders didn’t have a goalie start consecutive games until mid-December during the 2019-20 season.
While I don’t think that’s necessarily going to happen here, I do believe that Trotz is going to have to rely on Sorokin to become a 1A, rather than the B role he’s filled to this point in 2020-21.
As for Sorokin’s performance on Sunday, I think it was very encouraging as far as what he could potentially do as Varlamov’s 1A. Sorokin wasn’t tasked with making any highlight-reel saves on Sunday, but he made the routine saves look routine, which was something he wasn’t doing back in early January.
It’s also an extremely underrated skill to be able to remain focused through long lulls in action as a goalie. Sorokin wasn’t tested much through 40 minutes, but when he was tasked with keeping the scoresheet clean he was up to the job. We’ll see how he fares going forward in March, as the Islanders are probably going to call his number a lot more than they did in February.