In the Islanders 3-0 victory over the Buffalos Sabres, rookie netminder Ilya Sorokin picked up his first National Hockey League victory. While he did not face many shots on goal, he was a walking — or should I say skating — highlight reel.
We have seen Ilya Sorokin get better and better in each of his appearances this season. In his three starts prior to Tuesday’s victory, the Islanders had failed to give him a lead which put a ton of pressure on the 25-year old rookie. However, after scoring two goals in the first, the Islanders gave him the first lead of his NHL career, and he handled the rest.
While Sorokin hasn’t received a ton of playing time this year, he has taken major strides since his first appearance in net.
“When you play, play, play, you’ll feel better every day. I feel better than I did a month ago,” Sorokin said after the win.
— NHL (@NHL) February 17, 2021
For the majority of the game, the Islanders looked lifeless. Whether it was the Islanders’ satisfaction with an early 2-0 lead or the tiredness that comes from playing on back-to-back nights, it was far from the effort we have become accustomed to over their recent stretch of games
But Ilya Sorokin bailed his team out.
Technically Sorokin did allow one goal on Tuesday, but it was ultimately wiped off the board after the Islanders successfully challenged the play for offsides. Sorokin could do nothing to stop it regardless.
After the game, Sorokin joked that the video review would be the most memorable part of the game.
Ilya Sorokin on what he will remember about his first win:
“Video review.” 😂 pic.twitter.com/g1CFgFycja
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) February 17, 2021
As the game came and went, Ilya Sorokin had to be really good in order to extend the Islanders’ point streak, which now sits at eight games. While he made a handful of ultra-impressive saves, it was his positioning that caught my attention. Whether it be stopping deflections or fighting off shots, Sorokin put himself in a position for success on most of the shots he faced.
We did see a few rebounds that he would have liked to control, but at the same time, he stopped the puck. Even when he had to fight off some shots, his positioning gave him the opportunity to make the save.
All night long the Buffalo Sabres tried to score via deflections, a goal-scoring style that we have seen more and more of over recent years.
However, when a goaltender is as aggressive as Sorokin was, deflections have a slim chance to enter the net. The reason being is because the deflection, while it does change the location of the shot, can only find an open area if there is one. Since Sorokin was at the top of his crease all night, the deflections had nowhere to go.
While Sorokin was perfect on the stat sheet, there were a few times where Sorokin struggled to control his rebounds and he had to fight off some shots. However, he made the saves and at the end of the day, that is the priority.nhn
One of his biggest and timely saves, which he made look easy, was his breakaway save on Taylor Hall early in the first. As the speedy Hall came down on Sorokin, the young goaltender read the backhand move as if it was a children’s book. With Hall failing to pick up his head, Sorokin knew what was coming. While this save was not as flashy as the others, it was pivotal. If Hall were to score there, the Islanders would be chasing, and given the effort, we saw in the second and third, it could have proven fatal.
Sorokin’s glove was also electric tonight, as he flashed the leather on more than one occasion. This save on Henri Jokiharju early in the second was special.
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) February 17, 2021
When a goaltender has to stretch or has to make a stellar save on a routine shot, it usually means their positioning was off. As I watched the replay I noticed Noah Dobson got in the way of the release, which was why Sorokin was slightly off his angle but recovered rather nicely.
It would be another 13:31 before Sorokin touched rubber again after that save.
For netminders that are hot, the last thing they want is to not continue to feel the puck, which made Sorokin’s performance on Tuesday all that more impressive.
It was Sorokin’s save on Sam Reinhart that showed off the raw strength he has when pushing off to make a stop. This save on Reinhart showed us plenty and was one of many similar saves he made on the night.
— CordUp 🔌🍋 (@CordUpTime) February 17, 2021
Not only did he have to look for the loose puck following the block, but he also had to push off to get to his far post in time.
Earlier in the third, around the 12:00 minute mark, Victor Olofsson hit the post. However, Sorokin had pushed off and was there if need be to make the save.
Sorokin faced 14 high-danger chances in the win, as he denied all of them. That was the most he has faced in a game this season, as it showed not just the progress he had made, but just how good he needed to be to pick up a shutout, let alone a win.
Given the way Semyon Varlamov has played this season, it is clear who the number one netminder for the Islanders is. But if Ilya Sorokin is going to play the way he played on Tuesday as the season rolls on, head coach Barry Trotz has the luxury of having two elite-level performers in goal.
More importantly, Trotz has the trust to throw Sorokin out there, without it being a detriment to the team.