New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin has never experienced a workload like this — especially during his brief stay in North America in what is now his second NHL season.
The 26-year-old Russian stalwart has started each of the Islanders’ six games this season; forced to do so while the team’s 1A netminder (Sorokin being 1B) finishes recovering from an undisclosed injury that has nagged him throughout the offseason.
It’s already nearly 30% of the number of games he started last year during the shortened 56-game NHL campaign, but Sunday night proved to be the next lofty test of a season that’s already been filled with challenges.
After pitching a 26-save shutout in a 3-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night, Sorokin got the call again one night later against a powerhouse Vegas Golden Knights team — the toughest test yet of a season-opening 13-game road trip that is nearly halfway through, now.
“We were very confident in him,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “Here’s a little tidbit: He’s never played a back-to-back. In typical Soroky fashion, he goes — when I talked to him — ‘I never played a back-to-back’… He just said, ‘I’m good.'”
And good he was.
Sorokin answered the bell superbly, making 42 saves to record a second-consecutive shutout in a 2-0 Islanders victory. He became the first Islanders goaltender in franchise history to post a shutout on consecutive days with both outings coming on the road.
It was also the first time any NHL goaltender has done that since 2015 when Ondrej Pavelec pitched a pair of road shutouts with the Winnipeg Jets.
“He’s been outstanding for us,” Islanders forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau said of Sorokin.
After a rocky start that saw him yield 10 goals with a .855 save percentage in the season’s first two games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers, Sorokin has recalibrated to look like the All-Star shutdown goalie he is poised to be.
In the Islanders’ last four games, in which they’ve gone 3-0-1, Sorokin has saved 136 of 140 shots for a .971 save percentage.
“He’s just a workhorse,” star center Mathew Barzal said of his goaltender. “He’s always doing something whether it’s stretching, skipping rope, or just cardio. He’s always just working on his game and for him to have the nights the last three, four games that he did, that was huge for our team.
“He’s such a good guy and we love him in the dressing room.”
With the Islanders earning nearly a week off after such a busy start, Varlamov will likely be ready to take some time in the crease off Sorokin’s hands, but the second-year man’s efforts salvaged what could have been an ugly start to the season.
“He’s been outstanding. He’s won us games and he’s kept us in games,” center Casey Cizikas said. “Back-to-back shutouts to finish a road trip, that’s big. He’s comfortable in there, he’s confident in there… he’s standing tall and he’s winning us games.”