Expectations were sky-high for New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin this season, perhaps unfairly so. After finishing second in the Vezina Trophy voting and signing an eight-year extension, Sorokin was praised as one of the best goaltenders in the league, and his contract extension was universally viewed as a smart long-term investment, while other such contracts were ridiculed.
However, his traditional stat numbers are well behind last season’s pace. Heading into tonight's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Sorokin is 15-12-9, with "only" two shutouts and a 3.13 goals-against average that would be by far the highest of his career. For perspective, in 172 appearances, Sorokin's career GAA is 2.50.
However, a deeper look will show that his numbers have been the symptom of the team's larger defensive problems this season. Sorokin's save percentage is a more than respectable .910, and together with teammate Semyon Varlamov, the Islanders' goaltending tandem has the seventh-best save percentage in the league at .911.
On Tuesday, J Fresh Hockey released a micro-stat chart courtesy of data provided by Corey Sznajder's AllThreeZoes Project. The chart has A LOT of red. It doesn't simply show the high number of shots allowed per game (34.4), but the micro stat view shows how the Isles' defense is in the bottom third of the league in attempts, chances, in-zone shots, possession exits, cross-shot passes, and OZ recovery success. Yet, one of the two D stats they are in the Top 10 in is goals allowed
That speaks to how good Sorokin and Varlamov have had to be in front of their poor and leaky defensive structure. It's a fair argument that the Islanders would be even further down the standings without the play of their goaltenders. However, the feeling is that Sorokin could still be better.
Those that watch the games and just don't look at advanced stat sheets know that too often Sorokin has allowed a goal he wish he could have back. His positioning has been questionable at times and he hasn't looked as settled and confident as he did in previous years.
Monday night's win versus Toronto was a step in the right direction. The Islanders still allowed a way too high 37 shots-on-goal, but from start to finish, Sorokin looked firmly in control between the pipes. The Leafs made their push with an extra attacker in the final minute, and Sorokin was at his best down the stretch, making a key stop on Morgan Reilly with eight seconds left, locking down a much-needed regulation win against a playoff opponent.
Sorokin's numbers aren't all on the goaltender and Patrick Roy is working diligently to improve the Isles defense through tweaks in their structure. We don't expect miracles, but if the team defense can improve modestly and Sorokin can give more performances like Monday night, the Islanders will put themselves in a position to make the postseason.