Although his career got off to a slow start, New York Islanders rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin has proven he has the mental toughness to be a force to be reckoned with at the NHL level.
The latest example came on Thursday in the Islanders 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, when he stonewalled Philadelphia in the shootout. He finished the night with 25 saves and .925 save percentage.
While Ilya Sorokin may have a 10-3-1 record with a 2.18 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage after his first 14 starts, the beginning of his tenure in the NHL didn’t get off on the best foot. Sorokin dropped his first three starts in net, despite admirable efforts in two of those outings, before he was able to finally get his first win.
Since then, the 25-year-old has been stellar for New York and has shown time and time again how he’s been able to battle through adversity to come up big when the Islanders have needed him.
Thursday’s game against Philadelphia quickly went south after the Islanders failed to capitalize on a five-minute major. Philadelphia used the penalty kill to generate momentum and they quickly pounced on the Islanders. Sorokin had to be sharp through that elongated power play as Philadelphia generated more shorthanded chances than the Islanders did with a man advantage.
Shortly after, a harmless shot off the stick of Nicolas Aube-Kubel found its way behind the young netminder.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) April 8, 2021
The Islanders sluggish play led to the tying goal in the second period. But just as he did after getting pulled a week ago, he shook it off. He made up for it and then some with a dominant performance the rest of the way, which included stopping all five shooters in the shootout.
“His confidence every time he goes in the net is growing,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the win.
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) April 9, 2021
As the months have gone on, the rookie netminder has found his game. Ilya Sorokin has showcased to his teammates, the New York Islanders organization, and the fanbase that the hype surrounding his arrival was well deserved.
Since the sluggish start, Sorokin went on a run that could only be described as electric. He went 8-0-0 from Feb 16 to Mar 22, with a 1.63 GAA with a .943 SV%. He kicked off that wing streak with back-to-back shutouts, first over the Sabres and then against the Penguins.
He was not perfect in goal and some games required more effort than others, but he has found a way.
He rampaged through that part of the schedule, he hit a roadblock against the Penguins the second go-around. Back on March 27, Sorokin was pulled early in the second period. He allowed four goals on nine shots, and although it was not all on him, he was nowhere close to sharp.
Ilya Sorokin was and still is playing on the biggest stage under the brightest of lights. Given the pandemic, a new country, a new style of game, there have been obstacles to overcome in this shortened season.
“I think Ilya has already proven to me his ability to bounce back,” Trotz said at the time. “I’m not worried about Ilya. I have a lot of faith in his mental toughness.”
Sorokin backed up his coach’s word as he is 2-0-0 with a .932 SV% and a GAA of 2.00. He has put that performance behind him and has not just played good enough to win. He has been terrific.
For a young player, goaltender or not, the mental aspect of being in the NHL takes a toll. Struggles are not always a bad thing and Sorokin’s struggles have led to growth that a stat line cannot truly measure.
Earlier in the year, when the Islanders failed to get him goal support, he struggled mightily. Now in close games, there is no need to worry.
As the end of the season get closer, Sorokin’s compete level and confidence will be a deciding factor in his role in the road to the Stanley Cup. Right now, the confidence is there. Sorokin will get the night off on Friday when the Islanders host the New York Rangers, but a second shot at the Rangers may be in his future on Sunday.
It was the Islanders’ rival that ran circles around Sorokin in his first NHL start earlier this after Semyon Varlamov was injured during warmups. A strong showing Sunday when the two sides meet again would see Sorokin come full circle.