NY Islanders Ken Appleby makes long-awaited nerve racking return to NHL action

New York Islanders v New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders v New Jersey Devils / Rich Graessle/GettyImages

It wasn't the most ideal way for Ken Appleby to make his long-awaited return to NHL action, but it was memorable nonetheless. The New York Islanders goaltender, who has been serving as the team's backup since Semyon Varlamov has been out with an injury, replaced Ilya Sorokin for the start of the third period in last night's 5-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

Appleby stopped six of eight shots in his first NHL since Jan. 25, 2018, versus Nashville as a member of the New Jersey Devils. He was immediately tested as the Islanders were killing off a penalty kill to start the period. His appearance marked the first time in 139 games that neither Sorokin nor were between the pipes for the Isles, with Cory Schneider being the previous (Apr. 3, 2022).

“I would have liked to have made the saves that they needed me to make to hopefully give them the chance to come back in the game,” Appleby said. “It’s never easy coming in cold like that, but I felt like I made some decent saves. It’s exciting anytime you get any kind of action in the NHL, obviously a little nerve racking.”

Before the game vs. the Wild, head coach Lane Lambert said his decision as to who would play tonight against the Winnipeg Jets would be determined by how the game would go. Given that Sorokin was able to get some rest in the third and that the Islanders have dropped two straight, the expectation is that he will be appearing in his career-high 12th straight game.

According to the NHL and statistician Eric Hornick, time between appearances for the 28-year-old Appleby, was the seventh-longest stretch between appearances by a goalien in league history. He also became the 55th goalie ever to play for the Islanders in a regular season game.

We don't know if and when Appleby will get another NHL appearance. It may not be what he envisioned, but any opportunity and experience at this level is a memorable one. For this one, he got to play 20 minutes opposite of future Hall-of-Famer Marc Andre-Fleury on the night he passed Patrick Roy for the second most wins in NHL history.