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Watling: Varlamov’s Softies Prove to be Costly in Goalies’ Duel

Before Tuesday’s game two 2-1 loss, Islanders’ head coach Barry Trotz played it close to the best who his starter in goal would be. Trotz made the curious decision to sit rookie goalie Ilya Sorokin after a 39-save performance which surely was the main reason that the Isles won game one. He went with Sorokin’s fellow countryman, Semyon Varlamov, who was just as impressive but surrendered a pair of soft goals that put the Isles in a tough hole early.

It is unfair to say that the game came down to the first period; however, those two goals Varlamov allowed he would want back. In a series as close as this one, goaltending will be the great equalizer, something that was on full display in games one and two. In game one, Sorokin was great and Tristan Jarry was borderline terrible. In game two, Jarry stole the show. Varlamov’s biggest issue in game two was the low-danger goals, which are costly come playoff time as former goalie Stephen Valiquette told Greg Wyshinki of ESPN. 

At the end of the day, it is not right to blame the loss on Varlamov. He made 43 saves on 45 shots. The Islanders in front of him just could not produce enough offensively to make a difference, as Jarry made 37 saves.

The first goal Varlamov gave up to Bryan Rust was easily the worst goal allowed of the series so far, including a trio of Jarry’s blunders in game one. 

If you look at the goal a touch closer, Varlamov was too far in his crease. In a seemingly harmless scenario from beyond the faceoff dot, Varlamov needs to cut down the angle at the top of his crease, not sit back. Interestingly enough, in the first shift of the third period, Varlamov corrected this.

When Sidney Crosby fluttered a weaker shot on net, Varlamov was positionally sound at the top of his crease. This along with Varlamov’s much better second period is reason to believe his first period was more rust than a lack of skill or movement due to injury. It is certainly a reasonable excuse of sorts, as it had been eight days since Varlamov’s last start, the longest of his season. 

Again, some of the loss could be put on the veteran goalie’s shoulders, however, as he did put up some impressive saves.

Defensively the Islanders struggled in the first period, and Varlamov was there to bail them out. This continued in the second, even though the Islanders got their legs under them a bit more. In the third, he was even more impressive, stopping every shot he faced.

“He played a great game tonight and unfortunately we couldn’t get it done for him, d-man said of Varlamov after the game.

READ MORE: Watling: Islanders fail to ice 20-goal scorer this season

To look at the game at a macro level, Varlamov had just under 47 minutes of shutout hockey, nothing short of brilliant.

“I thought he (Varly) was excellent after the first goal. There was moments when they could have made it 3-1 and he came up with some key saves. He was moving well and crisp,” added Trotz.

Overall, the Islanders lost this game due to their inability to score; giving up just two goals against a top-five offense is really impressive. Despite this, one has to wonder if Sorokin gives up those early blunders that Varlamov did, and if Trotz overplayed his hand in net like many across Isles Nation did not expect.



Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattWatling99

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