For New York Islanders netminder Semyon Varlamov, the 2021-22 season was nightmarish. An inability to be healthy for the start of training camp and the beginning of the regular season limited his ability to be the goaltender he showcased during the 2020 campaign. But as a fully healthy participant at training camp, that has allowed Varlamov to shake off the summer rust and put himself in a stronger spot to help the New York Islanders out of the gate.
Preseason may not seem important to many on the outside and skaters usually use their ice time to get their legs back underneath them. But for goaltenders, preseason minutes are critical. There’s no mimicking game-like situations, and the more repetitions a netminder can get, the quicker he can get into game shape.
“I’m feeling really good. Can’t wait to play a couple more exhibition games to get back in game shape,” Semyon Varlamov told NYI Hockey Now back on Saturday morning. “You can practice as long as you can, but you got to play the game, so I’m excited to play a couple more games before we start the season.”
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While the focus is stopping pucks, Semyon Varlamov knows what he needs to do to prepare for the start of the season as he gears up for his 15th year in the NHL.
“I play for a long time, so first thing, get back into that game shape,” Varlamov said. “I haven’t played the whole game [in preseason], so you really don’t know if you are ready until you play like a full game.”
“You know at the end of the game where you’re at. [If] I get super tired and exhausted or you actually still have some juice at the end of the game, this is how you know [if you are ready].
A few days before our initial chat, Varlamov led the Islanders out for their first preseason game against the New York Rangers, and it was a start full of rust–as expected.
He stopped 16 of 20 shots that came his way through 31:15, a few shots that he could have been handled a bit better.
Not playing a full game is unique for goalies, but for Varlamov, not playing the whole game is rather important initially.
“It’s just different. Like, for me, it’s important not to play maybe a full game right away. And you adjust slowly, you know, maybe like half a game and then after that play a full game,” Varlamov said. “Because you played half of the game, and then you need to make sure you feel good after because if you play the full game right away, it’s a lot because you haven’t played for a while.”
“So I like to play half the game [to start].
The lone goal that Varlamov allowed in the game came on on a five-on-three Flyers power play, off the stick of defenseman Tony DeAngelo. It seemed that Varlamov was in the right position for the shot, but the puck just snuck between his glove-side arm and in.
🚨 1-0! 🚨
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) October 3, 2022
It’s one that Varlamov knows he could stop, but the situation in front of him was a tricky one.
“It was a five-on-three situation…always hard to defend the net,” Varlamov said. “I got to watch the replay, to be honest for you. It happened so quick…I got to watch the replay and then see how I was on my positioning.”
After the game, Varlamov spoke about how he felt.
“I feel much better today,” Semyon Varlamov shared following the 2-1 win over Philadelphia. “After the game against the Rangers, we play a couple of scrimmages, so I feel more in the game today, more confident.”
Semyon Varlamov finds himself in a unique and different situation for the first time in his NHL career. With the emergence of Ilya Sorokin over the last two seasons, Varlamov is likely to be the backup for Lane Lambert. But as we have seen in the NHL, tandems are critical to the Islanders’ overall success.
With Varlamov completely healthy this time around and having the opportunity to use preseason play to shake off his offseason rust, the 34-year-old is more prepared to start the regular season than he was a year ago. Although his role is expected to be less, Varlamov will need to be ready when Lane Lambert calls his name.