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Semyon Varlamov Earned Right to Start in Game 1 vs. Florida

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Semyon Varlamov stops a shot from Jesper Fast

After Wednesday’s win over the New York Rangers, New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz wouldn’t indicate who would start Game 1 against the Florida Panthers on Saturday. However, it would be hard to envision it being anyone other than Semyon Varlamov.

The Russian netminder played 40 minutes of the Islanders 2-1 win over the Blueshirts and made 19 saves. He tracked the puck well and made the big saves when he needed to. Then, of course, there were the dazzling saves in the second period on Jesper Fast from point-blank range.

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Earlier, he displayed his ability to move laterally to stop a shot

All of it adds up to the conclusion that Semyon Varlamov should be between the pipes when the Islanders face the Panthers.

That’s not to take anything away from Thomas Greiss, who played well in his 20 minutes of work on Wednesday. Still, at the end of the day, it’s clear who the Islanders No. 1 goaltender is at the moment.

Historically, both goaltenders have fared well against the Florida Panthers. Greiss is 5-2-1 lifetime against them, including winning both starts he had against Florida this season. Greiss also helped backstop the Islanders to their first playoff series victory in 2016 against the Panthers.

Varlamov has never faced Florida in the postseason, but he holds an 8-3-1 record against them in the regular season. That includes a win over the Panthers this season on Oct. 12.

“My goaltending with Varly and Greisser, we’re pretty set,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “You just have to look at the records against Florida, I could throw a dart to the dartboard and I’d feel pretty comfortable. My goaltending is in good shape.”

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That bodes well for the Islanders, especially with Game 2 and Game 3 being played on back to back nights. So, the depth is good, but it doesn’t change the fact that Varlamov has earned the nod in the opening game.

Aside from his performance on Wednesday night, there is one stat that gives him the edge, especially with the way the Islanders play. That is the number of “quality starts” he has had during the 2019-20 season.

A goaltender is awarded a “quality start” when they post a save percentage at least as high as the league average for that season or if they allow two goals or less and post a save percentage above that of a replacement-level goalie. Varlamov had 21 “quality starts” during the 2019-20 season, according to Hockey Reference.

Greiss had 15 “quality starts” during the same time, according to Hockey Reference.

Trotz isn’t wrong when he says that he can’t make a bad decision in picking his starter. Both have shown that they can stand up to the challenge.

After Wednesday, however, it’s clear that the starting job Saturday should belong to Semyon Varlamov.

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