Semyon Varlamov turned down an opportunity to potentially start elsewhere in the NHL to remain with the Islanders where he’s backing up his good friend in Ilya Sorokin.
It allowed New York to retain one of the top goaltending duos in the NHL — and the early returns certainly suggest that they belong on such a perch.
Varlamov picked up his first shutout of the season in just his second start on Saturday night in Columbus, turning away all 34 Blue Jackets shots in a 2-0 victory.
Through two games, he’s saved 73 of 76 shots (.961 save percentage) with a 1.51 goals-against average — a sharp Varlamov being just as paramount to the Islanders’ hopes of contending for the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season as Sorokin’s expected greatness will be.
“He’s been sharp,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said of the 35-year-old netminder. “He’s been sharp from the get-go from the start of training camp. He’s a very, very good goalie. We really have a ton of confidence when he’s in the net — when both of them are in the net.”
Varlamov did play behind a much more organized Islanders defense compared to some of the recent nights Sorokin had to endure.
Over his last three games, Sorokin faced 123 shots — the third-most in a three-game span in his career — including a 45-save-on-47-shot 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
Against the Blue Jackets, the Islanders defense blocked 21 attempts for Varlamov.
“I thought we battled really hard,” Lambert said. “And there were moments when we needed certain situations defensively. I thought our guys did a great job of battling. There were some close calls, but that’s the way hockey is.”
Regardless, Varlamov was there when the Islanders needed him most, including a battle with Columbus winger Jack Roslovic in the third period. The New York netminder came up with a pair of top-drawer saves, which sandwiched a chance for the Blue Jackets winger that hit the post.
This is as good as Varlamov has looked in a few seasons, which only bodes well for the Islanders. Sorokin simply can’t play every game, especially under the workload that he’s experienced in recent nights. Having another netminder playing not just at a competent level, but an All-Star level, will make the Islanders a difficult team to beat on any given night.