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Varlamov’s Bounce Back, Islanders Tandem Atop the NHL Again



New York Islanders Semyon Varlamov
New York Islanders netminder Semyon Varlamov against the Ottawa Senators (Photo via New York Islanders Twitter)

As the 2022 Trade Deadline came and went, along with the NHL Draft and the offseason, New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello continued to repeat how much he valued netminder Semyon Varlamov, despite the veteran’s struggles in 2021-22. There were opportunities to move Varlamov and his $5 million annual salary, but any deal that was available never came to fruition.

Despite Ilya Sorokin heading into the 2022-23 season as the New York Islanders’ no. 1 netminder, there was no debate that Semyon Varlamov would still have to play a critical role if the Islanders were going to get back to the postseason.

Early on, Varlamov refound his game, the game we saw from the 2019-20 season when he was one of the best goaltenders in the league.

In the 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Monday night, Semyon Varlamov was brilliant as he turned aside 36 of 38 shots that came his way, including 11 of 12 high-danger shots. He earned his fourth win of the season in six starts, a number he did not reach until his 18th start last season.

Through six games, Varlamov owns a 2.77 GAA with a .920 SV% and a 2.76 GSAA. He’s also stopped 52 of 61 high-danger shots, which is good enough for an .852 HDSV%.

You can tell by watching Varlamov that he has confidence back in his game. Starting the season healthy, which meant an entire training camp and preseason, has allowed him to get physically and mentally ready. And with Ilya Sorokin showcasing to be one of, if not the best netminders in the NHL with a 2.17 GAA and .932 SV%,  having Varlamov be a trusted component goes a long way toward the overall success of this organization.

Some will say that with the way Ilya Sorokin has played, there is no reason for Semyon Varlamov to be on this team, and the Islanders could use the money to go and get a prolific goal scorer to help Mathew Barzal.

While I don’t disagree that the Islanders could use the money, nor do I think that trading Semyon Varlamov at the deadline is off the table, look at this.

New York Rangers netminder Igor Shesterkin played in 55 games last season and put up historical numbers as he took home his first-ever Vezina trophy. Although you cannot credit all of the Rangers’ success during the regular season to Shesterkin, without him, the Rangers are nowhere close to a playoff team.

Shesterkin masked many of their issues, playing lights-out hockey, but when it came time for the playoffs, it seemed that the season had taken a toll on him, and it took him a bit to find his game again.

I would be remiss not to point out that Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov have done the same for the New York Islanders this season, stealing wins and masking significant issues.

That’s why goaltenders get paid the big bucks, eh?

The point here is, if you have Semyon Varlamov, why not allow Ilya Sorokin to get a rest every fourth start? That seems to be the game plan for first-year head coach, starting Ilya Sorokin three games in a row (unless it’s a back-to-back) and then going to Semyon Varlamov.

And when Varlamov is on his game, he is by far the strongest backup in the NHL and the cutback in games might prove to be beneficial for the 34-year-old veteran.

The New York Islanders tandem has combined for a 2.42 GAA and a .930 SV%. The only other tandem off to a good start is the Vegas Golden Knights Logan Thompson and Adin Hill, who have combined for a 2.59 GAA with a .923 SV%.

Lane Lambert’s decision-making has paid off for the most part and has allowed both goaltenders to remain sharp, allowing the Islanders to jump out to an 11-6-0 start, just two points shy of first place in the Metropolitan Division. If Semyon Varlamov can keep up his strong play, this New York Islanders team will be stronger than anyone anticipated.