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New York Islanders

From the Arena: Unheralded Varlamov Erasing the Capitals

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TORONTO — Mat Barzal stole the show with his game-winning goal 4:28 into the overtime period. Equally as monumental for the New York Islanders, just 28 seconds earlier at the other end, Semyon Varlamov robbed Jakub Vrana twice on a breakaway chance to preserve the game.

Thus allowing the Islanders to take a 3-games-to-none stranglehold in the series.

“Your goalie is your eraser,” Isles head coach Barry Trotz after the win. “As a coach or a team, your goaltender can erase all your mistakes and we made a couple of mistakes there, and Varly erased it. Getting it for him, it’s a good process, where you want to reward your goalie for bailing you out. You can bail him out with a win when you get that opportunity.”

Recently, we haven’t talked that much about Semyon Varlamov. Until the big overtime moment, he hasn’t had to be spectacular in the series. Obviously he plays the most important position on the ice, but Islanders talk usually revolves around Barry Trotz’s systems, the grinding style of the team, and items like puck pressure and rolling lines.

But, for a team to go anywhere in the postseason they have to have confidence in their man wearing the mask. To earn that confidence, that goalie has to be better than good, even when chances don’t pile up.

“When you start a game you want to make a couple of good saves, instead of having to wait,” Varlamov said. “But we’ve been playing very good defensively and you always want to see that from the guys. That’s way better than seeing twenty shots in a first period, so they’ve been doing a good job.”

So far against Washington, the 2006 first-round draft pick of the Capitals, has definitely haunted his former team. He was a 23rd overall pick, but with a clogged crease with the likes of Jose Theodore, Michal Neuvirth and later Braden Holtby, then Capitals General Manager George McPhee moved Varlamov to Colorado.

Eight years later to the day, “Varly” signed a free-agent contract with the Islanders.

So far, this is the body of work against him by his former club in the First Round:

Game 1, 5:27 of the 2nd period, TJ Oshie cashed in off a lucky bounce on a cross-ice power play pass from Evgeny Kuznetzov that caromed off Adam Pelech’s skate, off the end boards, right to Oshie in the left wing circle. No chance.

Game 1, 11:18 of the 2nd period, Oshie again, this time on a goal-mouth scramble on the power play, jammed one between Varlamov’s legs. Could he have covered it? We’re splitting hairs.

Semyon Varlamov prior to game 3Game 2, 56 seconds into the 1st period, Alex Ovechkin skated suddenly in alone from the bottom of the right wing circle and backhanded one short-side. This after Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield had booted the puck and turned it over trying to control it out of the corner. Can’t fault the goalie.

Game 2, 6:39 of the 2nd period, Ovechkin again, six feet in front of Varly, deflects a Brenden Dillon rocket from the mid-point glove side. No chance.

Game 3, 5:50 of the 2nd period, Evgeny Kuznetzov goes top shelf glove side from the top of the right wing circle on the power play with Tom Wilson providing the screen directly in front of Varlamov. Perfect shot, no chance.

That’s it, that’s all the damage the Capitals have mustered.

No softies, nothing even close. The 32-year-old has the body language indicating that he is comfortably confident and he’s proven it when the few big moments have arisen.

Semyon Varlamov has outplayed Braden Holtby at the other end, who was particularly shaky in Game 1, and if Varly keeps it up, the Islanders will be moving on to the Second Round much sooner than later.

(Editors Note: Rob Simpson will be providing coverage from inside the Toronto bubble throughout the playoffs for NYI Hockey Now and the Hockey Now network of sites.)

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[…] From our boy Rob Simpson still in the NHL hub in Toronto, the New York Islanders are on the verge of sweeping Washington. Goalie Semyon Varlamov has been “erasing” the Capitals (NYI Hockey Now) […]

New York Islanders

Coach Boychuk? Former Defenseman Helps Coaches During Islanders Practice

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Johnny Boychuk

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — There was a familiar face on the ice at Northwell Ice Center. Johnny Boychuk helped out the New York Islanders coaching staff during Saturday’s practice as the team prepared for Sunday’s game against the New Jersey Devils.

Boychuk ended his 13 year NHL career in November due to an eye injury and was placed on LTIR at the start of this season. Saturday was not Boychuk’s first time on the ice for practice, having worked with the taxi squad players and he had been on the ice at times during training camp.

Boychuk has been seen around the organization publically several times this week. On Monday, the MSG broadcast caught Boychuk sitting next to Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello in a suite at Nassau Coliseum.

His continued presence around the Islanders organization has been a welcomed one by the rest of the team.

“It’s great for us. We love Johnny,” Josh Bailey said after practice. “We’ll take him as much as we can get him. It would have been tough to just more or less go cold turkey and not see him. He’s been such a big part of our dressing room for a long time. To get to have him out on the ice with us and to see him on a daily basis has been really great.”

Additionally, Boychuk had been skating with Mathew Barzal while he and the team sorted out his new contract the first week of training camp.


Josh Bailey became the first Islander to deal head-on with a COVID-related issue this season.

The veteran forward missed a day of practice this week and was briefly on the COVID-protocol list before returning to the lineup the following day. Bailey, along with the rest of the team, has been adhering to the COVID protocols, but potentially came into contact with the virus after his youngest son’s teacher tested positive for COVID-19.

A few days later when Bailey went to check on his son he noticed that he sounded a little sick and had a bit of a cough, the Islanders forward said. They had him tested and it came back positive for the virus.

The result ended up being a false positive and Bailey’s son tested negative twice over the following two days.

“For a couple of days there it was touch and go, but at the same time it all worked out,” Bailey said.

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New York Islanders

BACK AT THE BARN: What It Was Like Being at an Empty Nassau Coliseum for a Game

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The New York Islanders home rink of Nassau Coliseum

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Prior to this week, the last time the New York Islanders had stepped foot on Nassau Coliseum ice was March 7, 2020. While it was only 10 months ago, in retrospect it seems like a lifetime ago.

COVID-19 had only just started to creep into the sports universe. What would transpire a week later wasn’t even imaginable at the time. So there was a sense of familiarity and brief normalcy when I walked into the Coliseum on Monday afternoon for the Islanders home opener against the Boston Bruins.

under normal circumstances, in January I am usually fully engulfed in the Islanders season. Weekends are planned around game and practice coverage, or that odd trip on the road with the Islanders. Instead, the first few months of the traditional hockey season were spent wondering if there would even be hockey games to cover at all.

To say I was looking forward to being at Monday’s game would be an understatement.

Nassau Coliseum exterior Walking into the Nassau Coliseum you were quickly reminded of the current state of the world. Signs about the need to wear a mask at all times inside the building were everywhere, as were Purell hand sanitizing stations. Security checked our temperature at the door and media members and staff entering had to fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire.

It’s a similar procedure for those of us that attend Islanders practices in person, so it had become a sort of second nature.

What was the most jarring thing on Monday was the quiet of the arena. Those of us covering games aren’t allowed into the Coliseum until an hour before game time, which would mean during normal times that the concourse would be bustling with fans and vendors selling overpriced beer and pretzels.

You would move at a snail’s pace trying to walk from the media gate to the press box elevators. Instead, it was a brisk walk onto the concourse and into the inner bowl where they have us set up to watch the games from. If there is any silver lining, then it’s the fact that we’re down a bit lower than where the Coliseum press box is, but I still enjoy watching from above to see how plays develop and get a different angle on the game.

The Islanders tried to keep the game presentation the same as they would if the building had been packed with fans. They blasted the music during warmups and during a stoppage of play — albeit at noticeably lower decibel than previously — pump-up videos were on the video board and goals and penalties were announced by the public address announcer.

Cardboard fans

And they pumped in crowd noise, which wasn’t all that bad and helped keep some figment of a normal game experience. When the Islanders faced the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the volume of the crowd noise did not go over so well, but Monday on Long Island, it was done just right.

In fact, on Thursday during the Islanders 4-1 win over New Jersey, the fake crowd noise was almost nonexistent.

To that end, what was the oddest part of the whole experience so far was the emptiness of the Nassau Coliseum. Sure, people have their jokes about how empty the building has been in years past when the team wasn’t doing well, but at its best, the Coliseum is one of the toughest places to play in the NHL

In large part due to the fans that inhabit it. Adjusting to the calm and quiet, except for the music and fake noise, was something that took time.

Through all of the oddities, it was good to be back in an NHL rink.

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New York Islanders

Barzal Dazzles, Drives Isles in Win Over New Jersey | NYHN+

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Mathew Barzal

If there were any concerns about Mathew Barzal’s game because of his late arrival to training camp, the 23-year-old has quickly dispelled them with his dominant play on Thursday night.

It was Barzal’s three points (1g, 2a) along with linemate Jordan Eberle’s two goals that pushed the Islanders to a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at Nassau Coliseum.

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