What was there not to love about the New York Islanders 7-2 victory over the Boston Bruins? Mathew Barzal was dynamic, the defense got involved in the offense and the Islanders beat one of the best teams in the National Hockey League for the third time in as many tries this season.
Islanders netminder Semyon Varlamov started his fourth consecutive hockey game and stopped 34 of the 36 shots he faced on Thursday. The two goals that did enter the back of the net were not on him, as the first goal was a tap-in for Nick Ritchie, while the second came off an unfortunate deflection in the slot.
Varlamov also picked up his first point of the season whe he picked up the secondary assist on Barzal’s goal in the second. He stopped 12 of the 13 high-danger chances he faced in the win and was named the third star of the game.
But Varlamov was not as sharp tonight as he had been in games past.
In his last outing, a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres, Semyon Varlamov stopped 34 of 36 shots and was called upon to make many big-time saves. Last night, Varlamov did not seem as strong structurally as he had been and he had to battle until the Islanders could pull away in the third period. I would even go as far as to say that this was his worst performance of the season in regards of rebound control.
As the first period came and went, Varlamov seemed to be slightly delayed in his reaction time, whether it be finding loose pucks or tracking pucks off Boston sticks. The fact that the Bruins were only able to score twice speaks volumes to the help Varlamov got from his teammates in front, as well as Varlamov’s ability to battle through adversity.
After one period of play, Varlamov stopped 14 of 15. His rebound control did not get much better in the second period, as less than a minute into the middle frame, a backhand shot off the stick of David Pastrnak caromed off of Varlamov’s pad and right to the slot. However, defenseman Adam Pelech was in the right spot to clear the puck to the corner as play continued.
A couple of minutes later, Jake DeBrusk found himself on a breakaway following a Barzal turnover. While Noah Dobson was able to disrupt the shot, Varlamov played the scoring chance rather nicely. On breakaways, the goaltender is supposed to be aggressive but then judge the player’s speed and skate backward accordingly. Varlamov did just that as he denied the opportunity.
As seconds remained in the middle frame, Semyon Varlamov could not control a deep shot off the stick of Pastrnak from a few feet inside the blue line. The puck would hit off of his glove and right to Sean Kuraly in front, but he was unable to corral the puck as time expired. A goal there would have put the Islanders in a rather challenging position in the third period against one of the best lockdown teams in all of hockey.
Semyon Varlamov stopped 12 of 13 in the middle frame, as the game went to the third period knotted at two.
The third period would be a relatively easy period for Varlamov, as the Islanders jumped all over former Islander Jaroslav Halak and the Bruins for five unanswered goals.
Four minutes into the final period, with the score still tied, Varlamov denied Charlie Coyle, who made a nice power move towards the goal, as he let a backhand shot go. Backhand shots are the hardest for a goaltender to read, given how it comes off the stick, but Varlamov, whether it looked pretty or not, made the save.
At 12:04 of the third period, with the Islanders now up 4-2, Casey Cizikas would go off for delay-of-game. Seconds prior, Semyon Varlamov would fight off a DeBrusk shot from a bad angle as the puck came right back out in front. Anders Bjork looked to jump on the loose puck, despite three Islanders in the vicinity. The Islanders won the puck battle as Cizikas picked it up to the right of Varlamov but then sent his clearing attempt out of play. While the penalty was not Varlamov’s fault, it could have been prevented if Varlamov controlled the rebound.
The Islanders continued to rally on and dominate the offensive zone, as Varlamov only faced eight shots in the final twenty minutes. He would pick up his third win against the Bruins this season (3-0-0) and has a 1.33 GAA with a .959 SV% against the best team in the East Division.
“Varly came up with key saves at key times for us tonight,” said Barry Trotz following the game. And that is precisely how I would describe the performance of Varlamov. It was not pretty by any means, but he got the job done.