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Islanders Need Ilya Sorokin in Net to Help Curb Six-Game Skid

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Ilya Sorokin

An undermanned New York Islanders squad found themselves in a 3-0 hole on Sunday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. If not for the play of netminder Ilya Sorokin, that hole could have been far deeper by the final buzzer.

What appears to be quickly becoming evident this season is that when it comes to Isles netminders, one is outplaying the other when it matters most. In a year that has started off less than ideal for the Islanders, Sorokin has at least made the best out of a bad situation.

The Islanders’ defense has not held up its end of the bargain to help out their goaltenders this season. They are not playing to the strengths of either Semyon Varlamov or Sorokin, but there is one glaring difference.

Sorokin is still finding ways to make critical saves at opportune times. Varlamov is not.

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At even strength this season, Varlamov owns a GAA of 3.15, having stopped 24 of 29 high-danger chances (.828 HDSV%). Sorokin has a GAA of 2.25 when playing five-on-five hockey, with 75 high-danger chances stopped out of 90 (.833 HDSV%).

Although the two high-danger save percentages may not be too far off from one another, that extra one or two saves could be the difference from picking up a point, two points, or no points at all.

Varlamov has struggled with the long-distance shot this season, surrendering goals from an average distance of 25.22 feet at even strength (average shot of 32.19 feet). Sorokin has seen shots come from farther out (33.51 feet away) but the goals are coming from under 16 feet away (15.43 feet).

Sorokin turned aside 37 of the 40 shots he faced in his first start at home this season. He stopped 13 of 16 high-danger chances he faced and helped keep the Islanders within striking distance for as long as he could.

He made the saves he had to make while also making saves he had no business making. That’s Sorokin for you.

Through Sorokin’s short NHL career, he has proven to be a game-changer. The 26-year old has made saves that very few NHL goaltenders can make. He has the ability to bail his team out, something he has done often and something that his counterpart has not been able to do much of this season.

On the season, Sorokin now owns a 2.54 GAA and a .925 SV% in 12 games. His current Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) is a 4.63, which ranks 10th in the NHL amongst goaltenders that have made nine or more starts (540 minutes). He has been given just 2.08 goals per game of support, zero over his last three appearances.

After putting the team on his back during a seven-game point streak during their elongated 13-game road trip, the second-year NHLer had lost his last two contests before the loss to Toronto.

Sorokin had an .824 SV% with a 3.02 GAA over his two previous starts, only lasting a period against the Florida Panthers after allowing four goals on 17 shots.

He’s human.

To see him bounce back with a strong performance against a juggernaut offense in Toronto was a vitally important sign for the Islanders, given the way the last few days have gone for the franchise.

Varlamov, who got the home-opener start Saturday, looked the best he had looked this season, but he still struggled to come up with those big saves in the moments that the team needed. In four appearances this season, he owns a 3.31 GAA and an .894 SV%.

The more troubling sign for Varlamov is that his GSAA is a -2.23.

With just 1.50 goals of support per game for Varlamov, the Islanders can ill-afford to see pucks entering the back of the net, pucks that are indeed stoppable.

In all of those appearances, Varlamov has allowed more goals than expected.

It has become quite evident that Sorokin is a more talented netminder than Varlamov. That’s not to say Varlamov does not have talent, but there’s a vast disparity between their skills as goaltenders.

It would not be fair to say that Varlamov is just a by-product of the defense, but it would be fair to say that this season, with the lack of a strong defense in front of him, Varlamov’s flaws are being exposed.

Last season, a Vezina-caliber one for Varlamov, he posted a GSAA of 22.0. That led all other NHL goaltenders.

Whether it is the belief that he has to be perfect each night to win or just different shots coming his way, given the inept defense, Varlamov has not been able to find the game that brought him success last season.

It’s imperative to the Islanders’ success that Varlamov gets back to the game we saw a year ago if New York wants to climb out of the significant hole they now find themselves in. However, Sorokin will have to lead the charge given how he gives the Islanders the best fighting chance at coming away with a win, or at the very least a point.

All advanced statistics in the article are from Natural Stat Trick

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