Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin working through toughest stretch of career to get back in win column

Ilya Sorokin Islanders
Ilya Sorokin (Kevin Kane/KK Images)

ELMONT, N.Y. — There was no doubt in Ilya Sorokin’s mind that this had been the most difficult stretch of his professional career. 

Entering Tuesday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, last year’s Vezina Trophy finalist had lost six straight games — the latest swoon in a season that has ushered in a noticeable regression in his play. 

Compared to last season, his goals-against average has ballooned from 2.34 to 3.04. His save percentage has fallen from .924 to .907. It was only exacerbated by that six-game slump from March 11 to March 24 where he allowed 21 goals — more than three per night — with an .881 save percentage.

“Yeah, of course [this has been the most challenging stretch of my career],” Sorokin said. “It’s the NHL, it’s a challenge every day so you have to make sure you work hard.”

Head coach Patrick Roy decided to give his workhorse netminder a few nights off, which is not the easiest concept to embrace considering the Islanders are in a fight for their postseason lives. But having veteran Semyon Varlamov as a backup is a luxury that most teams around the NHL do not have. The 35-year-old started three straight games, going 2-1 while turning away 93 of 101 shots (.921 save percentage).

“When I went to the bench, I saw what I could work on better and more than what I had before,” Sorokin said.

With Tuesday’s matchup against the Blackhawks being the second leg of a back-to-back — a game the Islanders had gone 0-6-3 in this season — Sorokin was called back into action.

And he answered the call.

Ilya Sorokin Islanders
(AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

The 28-year-old turned away 18 of 19 shots faced on Tuesday night to preserve a 2-1 Islanders victory, which moved them to within one point of a playoff spot after the Washington Capitals lost earlier that evening.

“It felt good to get a chance to play again,” Sorokin said. “I just try to do the same, right things and focus on what I can control.”

There are not many things at this point that the Islanders can control, though. An inconsistent season has them chasing the Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, who are two points ahead of New York, for the No. 3 spot in the Metropolitan Division. Those same Capitals and the Detroit Red Wings sit one point ahead for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

A hot streak from the Islanders’ star goalie will certainly improve their prospects with seven games to go.

“The thing that I was extremely proud of was that he had a good presence in front of the net,” head coach Patrick Roy said. “That’s what you want to see. I hope this game brings a lot of confidence to him, and it’s his first win in a while. That’s nice for him to have a win.”

For more on the Islanders and Ilya Sorokin, visit AMNY.com