DENVER–Despite the struggles of New York Islanders netminder Ilya Sorokin heading into the game against the Colorado Avalanche, losing five straight, there was no doubt that he would eventually get back to the Sorokin we saw at the beginning of the season.
Ilya Sorokin displayed confidence when speaking with the media, but we could tell that Sorokin was questioning himself in goal, staying farther back in his crease to give himself more time to make the saves as the struggles continued.
Although he wasn’t playing like himself, there was zero concern inside the locker room.
“We’re not really worried at all. We haven’t even really addressed that,” New York Islanders forward Hudson Fasching told NYI Hockey Now. We’re not concerned about it. And I think that’s kind of our vibe about it. Yeah. I mean, he’s an unbelievable goaltender, and we’re not concerned.”
Sorokin’s struggles were not just on him alone.
The Islanders had not done a strong enough job in front of him, and those highlight-reel saves after highlight-reel saves were just not coming at the same rate. The Islanders were relying on him to be the most outstanding goaltender in the league every night–which is not sustainable.
“Yeah, I think we got to help him out more,” Fasching said. “We have to make sure he can see the puck clearly, less traffic, and less grade-A scoring chances as well. We can’t be giving up as much as we’ve been giving up.”
“So I think those are two main factors that we can start to help him out a little bit more.”
Like every player during an NHL season, struggles arise, and how that player bounces back ultimately defines them.
In our exclusive interview with Cory Schneider about Sorokin’s struggles, he shared that he spoke to Sorokin Monday morning and tried to instill some extra confidence in his goalie counterpart:
“Hey, it’s a hard game, but it’s not as hard as you think it is when it’s not going well. And it’s not an easy game. It’s not as easy as you think it is when it’s going well. So, it’s somewhere in the middle, but you’re a talented goalie, like you’re one of the best. So just remember that. Don’t forget that.”
And from the start of the Avalanche game, Sorokin seemed to be playing with as much confidence as we had seen from him in quite some time.
He was aggressive. He fought through screens. He tracked pucks and controlled his rebound. He not only made that first save but the second and time the thirds, something we were not seeing from Sorokin.
Through regulation, Sorokin denied all 44 shots that came his way, with his best save coming on Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard in the second period as he was ultra-aggressive, stretching out to get his left skate on the shot.
He stopped two in overtime, the final of the two his best save of the night as he slid over to stop an odd-man rush chance.
— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) December 20, 2022
Sorokin did allow one of two shots to beat him in the shootout, but the Islanders’ ability to get a critical point was more or less on his performance. That point allowed the Islanders to hold down a playoff spot, as they are currently two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top wild-card spot.
Per NaturalStatrick.com, 15 of Sorokin’s 46 saves were considered high-danger shots, and his expected goals against for the contest was 5.09.
After the game, Islanders head coach Lane Lambert was proud of what he saw from Sorokin.
“He played great, and it was good to see,” Lambert said. “He fought through traffic, fought through deflections and things like that.”
“He was outstanding.”
Despite the loss, Sorokin notched his third shutout of the season and now owns a 2.36 GAA and a .926 SV%.
“Varlamov is lower body and is day-to-day,” Lamoriello said. He believes the injury will not be long-term and said he will be evaluated over the next few days.
The Islanders do not play again until Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, with a likely practice day coming on Wednesday.
Given the ‘next few days’ evaluation for Varlamov, there’s a strong chance that Sorokin may be asked to play both the New York Rangers game on Thursday and the second of the back-to-back with the Florida Panthers at UBS on Friday night.
The Rangers have gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and now sit in the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. Gerrard Galant’s club looks as strong as they have been all season long, with netminder Igor Shesterkin playing to the level we saw a year ago.
Over that stretch, they have outscored their opponents 40-23 and face the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night.
The Panthers have gone .500 over their last 10 at 5-5-0 and are currently four points out of a playoff spot. They have outscored their opponents 33-30. When Paul Maurice’s group have won over this stretch, they have blown out their opponent.
But when they lose, like we saw Monday night in a 7-3 loss to the Boston Bruins, it has been blowouts in the other direction.
The Islanders have faced both the Rangers (1-1-0) and the Panthers (0-2-0) this season, two teams that can light the lamp when the opportunities present themselves.
If Sorokin is in goal for both, the Islanders will need him to play as he did against the Avalanche, as every point and every save could be the difference in making the playoffs come season’s end.
Is Sorokin all the way back after just one strong game?
Maybe, maybe not, but his performance against Colorado was a critical step in the right direction at the right time for the New York Islanders.