New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz had a decision to make following the 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. The Islanders had another game to play 24 hours later against the rivaled New York Rangers, and netminder Ilya Sorokin was not an option. His choices were to go with Semyon Varlamov on back-to-back days or give Cory Schneider an opportunity.
He left the decision up to Semyon Varlamov. Here’s how that conversation went thirty or so minutes after Thursday’s game:
Trotz: Let me know tomorrow.
Varlamov: I don’t have to let you know tomorrow. I’m feeling really good. I wasn’t too taxed, and I’d like to have the game tomorrow.
Although Trotz had the final say, he went with Varlamov, and the move paid off.
Semyon Varlamov was fantastic against the New York Rangers, and even though the workload was not too heavy, with just 27 shots coming his way, there were times when Varlamov had to stand tall.
Not only did Varlamov record his second shutout of the season, but it was his fourth consecutive shutout on Madison Square Garden ice. Varlamov shut the New York Rangers out three times on Broadway during the 2020-21 season.
While that streak is impressive, what Varlamov did from Thursday to Friday showed where Varlamov is at.
A Vezina-caliber netminder in 2020-21 (.929 SV%, 2.054 GAA, 7 SO), we know all about the obstacles that came his way this season: no training camp, no preseason, no games early in the season, and a stint in quarantine.
Not to mention that the New York Islanders did not do a lot to help him out when he did play, leading to misguided statistics.
But as the Islanders have elevated their game, so has Varlamov. And the fact that he was not only able to go on back-to-back nights but win both games and stop a combined 57 of 59 shots was impressive.
Although getting into the head of a player, especially a netminder, is a challenging task, it’s evident that Varlamov’s confidence is as high as it has been all season.
“You can see his confidence growing each and every game,” teammate Casey Cizikas said following Friday’s win. “It hasn’t been just these last two games. It’s been a while now. So, you know, the way he’s playing, it gives us a boost going into every single game.”
And Cizikas is spot on.
Over his last five games, Varlamov is 4-1-0 with a .937 SV% and a 2.21 GAA.
I had written a story following Varlamov’s first start after the NHL Trade Deadline, asking if Varlamov was validating the decision of New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello for not moving Varlamov when he had the opportunity to do so.
The focal point of holding onto Varlamov seemed to be because of his relationship with Ilya Sorokin. While that could be the main reason, Varlamov finding his game again and being at the top of his game only makes the situation on the island better.
There’s belief from upper management to the coaching staff to the players in the room that Varlamov still has the skillset to be a difference-maker between the pipes.
At 33, coming off an injury, it was not apparent that Varlamov could ever get back to the game we saw last season. Was his career on the downswing? That might have been a premature approach, but with the way Ilya Sorokin was playing, there was little concern with the netminder situation.
It goes without saying that Ilya Sorokin is the no. 1 netminder for the New York Islandes, and Semyon Varlamov’s play as of late does not change that fact.
But having two strong netminders in the NHL is an advantage. And the Islanders are all set in goal if this strong play by Varlamov continues next season.