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Varlamov’s Lackluster Play Should Force Islanders Goaltending Change

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Semyon Varlamov

New York Islanders veteran netminder Semyon Varlamov put together a Vezina-caliber regular season. He led the NHL in shutouts with seven and was towards the top of the leaderboards in most statistics. The 33-year old netminder was able to dominate due to his tenacious positioning and keen anticipation, which helped boost his confidence to a relatively high level.

A lack of these attributes plagued his ability to have success in Game 3. Because of this, he may have forced the hand of head coach Barry Trotz to make a goaltending switch ahead of Game 4 on Saturday.

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Maybe Varlamov’s struggles can be accredited to his health. After being removed from the last game of the regular season for precautionary reasons, he was unable to dress for Game 1 and was a game-time decision for Game 2, a game he ultimately played in. While rust tormented him early, Varlamov rebounded to give his team a chance to win.

Perhaps it was just the adrenaline talking.

Semyon Varlamov allowed five goals on 27 shots in Thursday’s loss, a save percentage of .815. According to Natural Stat Trick, Varlamov’s expected goals against (xGA) was 2.21, a mark much lower than the actual result. 

“Um…I’ll have to look at it again” were the words that left Coach Trotz’s mouth when asked if he got enough out of his goaltender. “We’ll have to look at it.”

That’s pretty much told us all we needed to know about how Trotz felt about Varlamov’s performance Thursday.

Now Varlamov was a major issue, but the Islanders’ inability to hold onto momentum once they tied the game numerous times was the main focal point to their downfall. While the skaters on the ice had a significant role to play in that, Varlamov did not come through with timely saves at all. 

We could go through each and every goal Varlamov allowed tonight and nitpick what went wrong for the 13-year NHLer. But this should do the trick. 

On each goal, Varlamov failed to establish proper positioning. The biggest issue in his performance was his lack of awareness in his own crease. Varlamov got caught too far back on most, if not all the goals that entered the back of his net.

That is a clear-cut sign of a goaltender lacking confidence, which is the complete opposite mentality we saw from Varlamov during the regular season.

Against a Pittsburgh Penguins team with players that can shoot the puck, being out at the top of the blue paint is a must to succeed.

Penguins’ trade deadline acquisition Jeff Carter scored twice Thursday night on two goals that Varlamov failed to read correctly. Credit needs to be given when it is due, as both shots were as accurate as can be. However, Varlamov’s angles on both the goals he scored were off by a substantial margin, and both are goals that Varlamov knew full-well should have been stopped.

The first goal for the Penguins (Top left in Tweet) was redirected as the blame, well, followed suit. However, Varlamov was back in his crease and when a point shot is coming, that is the time to explode out of the crease, especially when there are bodies in front. The farther out a goaltender is, the less area that tip has to beat the netminder. Once that goal went in, it was pretty clear what kind of night Varlamov would have.

The clutch factor was just not there.

If the Islanders were going to do anything this postseason, it would come from the play of the elite defensive units and dominant goaltending on a game-to-game basis. Game One on Sunday saw the Islanders light the lamp four times in their 4-3 overtime win.

Tuesday, the Islanders only mustered one goal, and Varlamov’s mistake early proved to be rather costly. In a game in which the Islanders found the back of the net four times, that should have been enough offense for a monumental win on home ice to take the lead in the series.

Given the Islanders’ inconsistent offense, Semyon Varlamov needed to find a way to bear down and do what he could to ensure that those goals were enough. 

Ultimately he did not. 

That first game mentioned above saw the offense come to life and saw rookie netminder Ilya Sorokin stand tall in critical moments to get his team the overtime winner. While he was not brilliant, posting a -0.2 GSAA, he for sure bailed his team out when they needed him the most.

Has Sorokin shown enough for Trotz to give him the keys to the crease in a game where he must play to the best of his abilities in the biggest game of his short NHL career? 

Given what we have seen from Varlamov, Sorokin seems like the only viable option to start on Saturday. What has transpired over the last two games cannot happen for a third straight.

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