The Tampa Bay Lightning are headed to their third straight Stanley Cup Finals appearance after winning four straight games mounting a comeback over the New York Rangers who held a 2-0 series lead. As we wait for the Stanley Cup Final to begin between the Lightning and the Colorado Avalanche, conversations about the goalie duel between Igor Shesterkin and Andrei Vasilevskiey arose and the discussion about who is the best current goaltender in the NHL is a popular one. Vasilevskiy headlines the conversation as his accolades and dominance speaks for themselves and after a dominant season of his own, Shesterkin is a very close second. The New York Islanders have a highly touted goaltender themselves in fellow Russian goalie, Ilya Sorokin. Should the Islanders netminder be in the same conversation as his fellow countryman?
The conversation starts with the heavyweights of the NHL media. Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek via 32 Thoughts The Podcast mentioned Sorokin in the same breath as Vasilevskiy and Shesterkin when the two were debating the best goaltender in the NHL today. As of right now, if there is a pecking order between the three netminders, it's Vasilevskiy, Shesterkin, then Sorokin, although Marek can be convinced to flip the first two. However, when Sorokin was mentioned as someone "we're gonna start to have the conversation about," Friedman replied:
"Yeah, he’s a hell of a goalie too."- Elliotte Friedman
Looking back at the 2021-22 season, Sorokin had a phenomenal year. He took over the starting goaltender duties as soon as the season began with Varlamov on the injured reserve and ran away with the job. The raw statistics are great. Sorokin posted a .925 SV% that ranked him second overall among NHL goaltenders in 20 or more starts, a 2.40 GAA that ranks him fourth overall, and seven shutouts that ranked him second overall among all NHL goaltenders. Now, the Islanders weren't all that great this season, but those are some impressive numbers, especially under the circumstances.
Digging a little deeper, via NaturalStatTrick, Sorokin was the top goaltender in the NHL at 5v5 with a .936 SV%, first overall with an impressive 26.77 GSAA, and third with a 2.03 GAA. If you can believe it, Sorokin was that much better in high-danger chances as well, ranking first overall at 5v5 with a 0.883 HDSV%, 1.03 HDGAA, and 20.75 HDGSAA, about six more HDGSAA than the next best goaltender.
If you don't watch the Islanders religiously, you may not have seen that Sorokin has a habit of bailing out his team with some acrobatic saves that leave most who are watching with their jaws on the floor. When the Islanders were on the penalty kill this season, Sorokin bailed out his team a lot with a 4.76 GSAA and 24.5 xGA which ranks him second overall among all goaltenders in each category. Additionally, Sorokin ranks fourth overall with a 0.833 HDSV% and 2.15 HDGAA respectively, and owns an impressive 2.52 HDGSAA.
Obviously, Sorokin was not part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs picture this year as the Islanders fell short of claiming a spot in the postseason. However, Sorokin was there last season and although the Islanders relied on Semyon Varlamov more often, Sorokin's first showing in the playoffs was impressive. In five starts, Sorokin went 4-1 with a .922 SV% and 2.79 GAA and was one of the main reasons, if not the biggest reason the Islanders defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the 2021 NHL Playoffs. The sample size is small, but if a goaltender posts numbers like that against a team that features Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, it's worth mentioning.
So the raw statistics and advanced analytics look great for Sorokin. He leads many categories and for those he doesn't, he's still among the leaders. Vasilevskiy and Shesterkin are deservedly mentioned in any conversation regarding who the best goaltender in the NHL is, but make no mistake about Sorokin, he deserves to be in the conversation too. Goaltenders coming out of Russia look good these days, and what makes this conversation all the more exciting is that we'll be able to watch these three face off against each other often for the foreseeable future.