Varlamov boosts offensively-challenged Islanders to vital win over Avalanche

New York Islanders center Derick Brassard (10) fends off Colorado Avalanche center Tyson Jost (17) after Jost took a shot on York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (40) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, in Uniondale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes all you need is just one goal, according to Anders Lee.

That’s exactly what happened for the New York Islanders on Monday night at the Nassau Coliseum in a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

The Islanders’ captain provided the lone goal of the evening while Semyon Varlamov turned away 32 shots against an Avalanche team he spent the previous eight years with.

His heroics masked the Islanders’ continued offensive struggles, though, as they have now scored just two goals in their last three outings.

“We had to get one for the boys,” Lee said. “We’ve all been gripping a little tight lately.”

Lee’s tally came 6:54 into the third period when he came down the left wing and snapped a wrister past the glove of Avalanche goalie Pavel Francouz.

“We’re in a 0-0 hockey game in our building… just to get one was a relief for everyone really,” Lee said.

“Tonight was just one of those nights where you needed one. It’s not going to happen like that very often, but you have a goaltender like that and the defensive commitment gives us a chance every night.”

While the Islanders have been forced to shuffle their defensive unit around since the season-ending Achilles injury suffered by Adam Pelech, Varlamov stood on his head against the Western Conference’s top defense.

This one was worth a little extra, though.

After racking up 183 wins in eight years, second in franchise history only to the great Patrick Roy, Varlamov was not retained by the Avalanche, prompting him to sign a free-agent deal with the Islanders.

That wasn’t lost on Varlamov or his head coach, Barry Trotz, after the game.

“It feels good, I’m not going to lie,” Varlamov said. “Of course it feels good that we won and I played well.”

“Just by his expression after the game, you could tell that it meant a lot to him,” Trotz said. “He has a lot of friends over there, a real good history over there and the first time you play your old teammates, it’s different. It’s a little bit weird. You want to get the win and he did everything he could tonight… He was fantastic.”

But Varlamov’s big night didn’t come without some shaky moments. The Avalanche looked as though they took the lead with 6:09 left in the second, but the opener was ruled offside after Trotz opted to challenge Colorado’s zone entry.

“I had some luck on my side today,” Varlamov said. “But overall, I played great tonight.”

An important two points drew the Islanders level with the Pittsburgh Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division with one game in hand.

The style in which it was won had little effect on Trotz, who realized just how difficult it has been for his team to find the back of the net.

“The one thing in this business is when you win, you feel lighter. It’s all confidence based,” Trotz said. “We’ve got good goaltending and we’ve got some people on offense who can contribute who haven’t really got going yet. And they will, they’re good players…We’re battling like crazy right now.”

The Islanders have a quick turnaround as they meet the New Jersey Devils in Newark on Tuesday night. They’re just five nights from dropping a 2-1 decision to their Metro Division rivals at the Coliseum.

Varlamov — who has a .946 save percentage in his last five games — will take a backseat to Thomas Greiss, who has allowed 11 goals in his last three outings.

“Greisser is proud, he’s a good goaltender and he’s going to want to respond,” Trotz said. “He wants a piece of the net there’s no question. He’s extremely competitive. We’ll see where he is.”

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