The New York Islanders are coming together under new head coach, Patrick Roy. It takes time for any new coach to implement his system, but the top players are buying in, and the roster is healthy for the first time since late November. For them to take this recent momentum and make a push toward the playoffs, they'll need their touted goalie tandem to be at their best from here on out.
Ilya Sorokin is expected to be the backbone of the team, the equalizer between them and other teams with more overall talent. While he's not having the best traditional statistical season, he is on on pace for the highest workload of his career and kept the Islanders afloat following the injury to Semyon Varlamov. The 35-year-old's injury forced his younger counterpart into a difficult spot, resulting in Sorokin appearing in 15 straight games. The lack of an emergency call-up like Corey Schneider caused the Islanders to push the 28-year-old rather than start Ken Appleby.
A byproduct of the team's struggles defensively, Sorokin is having the worst statistical season of his career. While his .910 save percentage is more than respectable, the 3.10 GAA jumps out, but better days feel ahead with the team's defensemen back healthy and Roy's more aggressive defensive structure taking hold, especially at even-strength.
Now that things are becoming more settled under Roy, the concern of overworking the 2013 third-round pick should diminish or become a complete non-issue. The Islanders' best chance to make a playoff push is to have a fresh Sorokin. Roy knows this more than anyone in the organization, and with a strong pre-existing relationship with Varlamov, he'll trust to use Varly to play in big games against tough opponents when the schedule calls for it.
In 16 games this season, Varlamov has had some impressive streaks and is posting a very formidable 2.88 GAA and a .914 save percentage. The February schedule is light. After Saturday's matinees versus Calgary, the team hosts Seattle on Tuesday and then doesn't play again until Saturday's Stadium Series matchup versus the New York Rangers at MetLife Stadium. However, March is a different story and features two back-to-backs. It's where we should the value of the Islanders bringing back Varlamov should show most.
Varlamov got the start in the final two games before the All-Star break versus Montreal and Florida, allowing Sorokin to get even more rest heading into the extended time away from the rink. Now with the season back in full swing, we should see Roy get optimal use out of the Islanders' highly-touted goalie tandem.