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Rosner: Islanders’ Semyon Varlamov Deserves Rest Tonight

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Semyon Varlamov

With the announcement that the upcoming game against the Boston Bruins Tuesday has been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns, tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers is a perfect day for the Islanders to give starting netminder Semyon Varlamov the night off.

The Islanders’ number one netminder has started the last two games for the Islanders, and poor play from the team in front of him has led to two tough losses.

For a netminder that had bailed the Islanders out early this season before they decided to wake up, Varlamov has needed his team to give him more help. While the Islanders had beaten up on the worst teams in the division, the Buffalo Sabres, and the New Jersey Devils, the schedule has turned over here, with tougher competition on the menu. Let’s just say, the Islanders have not seemed hungry enough.

Over the last two games, Varlamov has stopped 46 of the 53 shots he has faced, and while that only equates to a .868 SV%, both losses were not on him. The Islanders have not made it easy on Varlamov over the last 120 minutes, as he has faced the opponents’ power play a total of seven times over the last two contests. Although all three penalties were killed off against the Flyers on Thursday, the Washington Capitals scored twice on their four power-play opportunities on Tuesday.

While he only has faced a total of eight shots on the seven power-play opportunities (1.14 PP Shots/Per Penalty), the pressure on a goaltender given this situation outweighs the stat sheet. It is strenuous mentally and physically on Varlamov, and given the amount of game time he has logged this season, it will start to take a toll if it hasn’t already.

In the Islanders’ loss on Thursday to the Flyers, Varlamov was called upon to help kill off three penalties, the first one a Matt Barzal double-minor high-sticking infraction. He answered the call, and on that kill, he made one tough glove save through a few bodies in front, the other an in-tight deflection to keep the game scoreless.

The Islanders’ five-on-five play in front of Varlamov showcased an endless cycle of defensive zone breakdowns that called for him to be on his game. And as the Islanders mounted a comeback late in the third, having gone down 3-0 after forty minutes, Varlamov turned aside Flyers’ shots left and right to give his team a chance.

The Flyers’ first goal would be the only goal of the four that Varlamov could have done a better job on, but let’s look at the circumstance. Not only did the goal come off a neutral zone turnover, but Varlamov also had to fight off a quick slapshot off the stick of Claude Giroux. The puck popped back out in front of his crease, and the un-defended Oskar Lindblom buried the rebound with ease.

The other three goals that went into the net were similar to this one, as his defense’s play failed him. When the Islanders fell behind 3-0 as the second period came to a close, it seemed that this game was over. If Varlamov did not continue to bail his team out, that would have been the case.

Varlamov continued his strong performance, with nine saves in the third, unfortunately seeing the game-winning goal get past him with 2:22 left on the clock. But his eyes were taken away from him, with no chance after another defensive miscue.

Head coach Barry Trotz said a few weeks back that he would start giving rookie netminder Ilya Sorokin more time to rest Varlamov, which he has done. It paid off tremendously, as both netminders contributed to the elongated win streak (9 games) and point streak (12 games) that ended Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. With the tougher schedule, both goaltenders need to stay sharp, which is why it makes even more sense for Sorokin to get the nod tonight.

The Islanders’ defensive system, on paper, may give people the belief that the Islanders’ netminders do not have to be stellar to get results. But that just is not the case, as Varlamov has been clutch this entire season with critical stops night in and night out. Varlamov currently sits with a GSAA of 10.46 per Natural Stattrick, which ranks fifth in the entire National Hockey League.

After tonight’s game, the Islanders go back to work Monday against these same Flyers before a few days off until they face the Bruins on Thursday, as that game still up in the air. If Varlamov does, in fact, get tonight off as we believe, he will be mentally and physically ready to go then, as he looks to help pick up a win, with two points more critical now than ever against these more formidable opponents.

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