The Islanders seemed just as relieved to get a 2-1 win for goaltender Ilya Sorokin on Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens than they were to break a four-game losing streak.
“It was nice to see him get rewarded,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “Everybody’s happy for him. He’s been very good for us.”
“Good for us” might be one of the largest understatements of the year. The 27-year-old Russian netminder will undoubtedly be in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy — awarded to the NHL’s top goaltender — at the end of this season.
Sorokin ranks second in the league in save percentage (.927), shutouts (3), goals saved above average (21), and goals allowed adjusted (77). His goals-against average of 2.25 is good for third-best.
He’s doing all this under a personally-unprecedented workload, too. With Semyon Varlamov dealing with injuries, Sorokin has started 13 of the last 14 games — and he continues to maintain an elite level of play.
Over his last six starts, he’s stopped 169 of 182 shots (.929 SV%) including this most recent three-game stretch in which he’s yielded just four goals on 84 shots faced (.952 SV%). Over his last 12 games dating back to Dec. 17, he owns a .939 SV%.
Yet his record over his last six games is just 2-3-1 thanks to an Islanders attack that has scored more than two goals just once during that span. It spoiled a 25-save gem against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday that resulted in a 2-1 shootout loss — the Islanders didn’t convert a single shootout attempt — before a turnover-riddled outing on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild eventually saw him crack in the third period, allowing two goals in 1:33 to spoil a 33-save outing in which his Islanders were largely dominated.
Hence the relief on Saturday night when the Islanders did just enough to preserve a 22-save Sorokin victory to improve his 2022-23 record to a mediocre 15-14-2 — a mark undeserving for a netminder of his caliber.
“[His current run] is extremely impressive,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “The way he sees the puck, how athletic he is, the way he can track the play. He’s extremely smart, he’s got the poise back there, it’s a treat for us every night…
“He gives us a chance every night. It’s good that we could get him a couple [goals].”
Attempting to scratch out a couple goals and praying your goaltender holds firm isn’t a winning formula — and it’s certainly not sustainable for an Islanders team that is trying to keep pace within the loaded Metropolitan Division. Sorokin is currently on pace to appear in 61 games this season when his previous career high was just 52.
While Varlamov continues to work his way back to even out the goalie rotation, it’s just as imperative for the Islanders to keep Sorokin as fresh as possible during a period in which he’s a one-man goalie show.
“He’s managing his rest very well. He’s young and he’s shown no reason that he can’t handle it or no signs that he can’t handle it,” Lambert said. “The key is to manage rest and recovery… He leaves practice a little bit earlier. He doesn’t do quite as much in terms of that after-practice work. It’s sleep, it’s all that stuff. Everybody does that but he’s challenged to do that right now.”
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