After seeing the skillset goaltender Ilya Sorokin displayed in his rookie campaign, the thought that he would be the clear-cut starter for the New York Islanders for years to come is a sound one.
But in 2021-22, the tandem route is the way to go as the Islanders look to remain a Stanley Cup contender.
The biggest reason that splitting time between Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov is the right route to take is the fact that the 13-year veteran is still under contract with the New York Islanders until 2022-23. He has not given Islanders head coach Barry Trotz any reason to move on from him after playing well and helping lead the Isles into the postseason.
Quite frankly, based on what we have seen in the regular season and the playoffs, it would be a disservice to the team for Varlamov to not play given his production.
Last season Varlamov started 35 of the 56 games and posted a .929 SV% with a 2.04 GAA and seven shutouts.
Although Sorokin should get more playing time in his second NHL season, Varlamov should play as long as he’s still giving the New York Islanders a chance to win when he’s in net. The recent past, mixed with the strong defensive style Trotz has in place, should allow Varlamov to continue his strong play this upcoming season.
It might also take some time for the players to adjust back to a normal schedule.
For the first time in two seasons, the NHL will play a full 82 games. After two seasons of not reaching that mark — playing 68 games in 2019-20 (minimum) and 56 in 2020-21 — this season will be an uphill battle as players look to get back to a sense of normalcy.
It will also be a change for a goaltender like Sorokin, who has only played against seven different opponents in his first season, given the COVID-19 schedule. He faced his eighth when he saw action against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Semifinals.
Sorokin only has 29 NHL games under his belt, including the postseason. In both the successes and failures of last year, the slim sample size makes it difficult to determine future results.
The third-round selection in 2014 dominated Buffalo last season, along with New Jersey, and Philadelphia. These three teams did not participate in postseason play. He struggled against Pittsburgh and Washington but shined bright against Boston in one start, despite picking up the loss.
And against the cross-town rival New York Rangers, who also missed the playoffs, it was not pretty, to say the least.
Sorokin did have success against Pittsburgh in the postseason, helping to backstop the Islanders to a first-round series victory.
This season, Sorokin will be facing new teams, new faces, which will bring a new learning curve. That’s not to say he cannot handle the challenge, but the belief that he will just become the guy in year two is not as realistic as it may seem.
Even before the breaching of the “white whale” on Long Island in 2020, Trotz had elected to go with a tandem each season he has been behind the bench. Despite his belief in riding the hot hand at times, Trotz has seen success with that strategy.
He had fan favorites Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss team up to win the Jennings Trophy in 2018-19. The following year, Varlamov and Greiss became a strong duo as well.
Now, Sorokin’s ceiling seems much higher than those previously mentioned, which is another reason why throwing him into a role he may not be ready for could hurt his development rather than help it.
Only a handful of teams in the NHL have goaltenders that can handle the majority of the workload that comes with an entire season. That is why many teams have tandems in place and the teams that can have both goaltenders rolling are the ones that end up having successful seasons.
The pressure for Sorokin to be “the guy” isn’t needed this season when Varlamov and Sorokin can be a strong duo, while still helping the young netminder develop.
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