The New York Islanders and Washington Capitals squared off in a playoff-style matchup at Nassau Coliseum on a busy Tuesday night in the NHL’s East Division.
With all eight East Division teams in action on Tuesday, the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals squared off on Long Island in a matchup of two of the group’s three giants. It was a playoff-style matchup, characterized by tight-checking, a lack of time and space around the puck, and some questionable referee calls and non-calls, but the Islanders prevailed late.
Here are three takeaways from an exciting, sometimes anxious Islanders win at the Coli.
1. Semyon Varlamov’s Sharp Start
Semyon Varlamov had hit a rough stretch dating back to around mid-March entering Tuesday’s action. Since March 16, the Islanders goalie had posted a 2-3-0 record, .879 SV%, and -5.12 GSAx in his six total appearances, according to Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference. (Note: March 27’s relief appearance of Ilya Sorokin does not count as a loss on Varlamov’s record.)
Now, no goalie is immune to the ebbs and flows of a long NHL season and the sheer randomness of night-to-night goaltending results. Search any .920 SV% goalie’s game logs on Hockey Reference, and you’ll find a surprising number of sub-.900 SV% games.
Despite the recent downturn in Varlamov’s performances, Barry Trotz opted to hand off Tuesday’s starting duties to his 32-year-old goalie, and it paid off. Varly tracked pucks well through traffic, made key saves in times when the Islanders were playing too loosely in their own end, and recorded his first shutout since February 8.
From a standings perspective, Varlamov couldn’t have hand-picked a better time to re-find his form than tonight’s game. We’ll go into more detail later about why tonight was such an important win for the Islanders, but playing against a team you’re directly competing with for the divisional crown in a late-season game, in what could be a primer for one of the first two rounds of playoff hockey is pretty much enough reason by itself.
With three games remaining on the schedule this week, the Islanders will have to turn to Varly again. Considering his March 25 performance, which came on a week’s rest, I’d say it’ll be good to keep him and Sorokin rotating neatly this week. The Islanders netminder looked a little rusty that night.
The balancing act for the Islanders and Barry Trotz down the stretch will be about finding time for both goalies to play without overworking either of them. Varlamov has shown he can play very well in a tandem, and he’s shouldered the load of this season very well for the most part. The key will be getting him to the playoffs without rust, but with enough rest.