For years, Islanders fans have anxiously awaited the arrival of netminder Ilya Sorokin. They pinned their hopes on a 25-year-old goalie who they rarely saw in-game action outside of YouTube clips and the occasional Twitter or blog update.
The accounts of his excellent play in Russia in the KHL, especially with the premier CSKA Moscow team, inspired thoughts that at last, the Isles would stabilize their goaltending situation, despite their goaltenders in the NHL having their moments and shining since the 2018-19 season.
Last offseason, however, the organization made room for the newcomer with Thomas Greiss packing his bags for Detroit. The transition came in the aftermath of the Islanders deciding to not re-sign Robin Lehner, going instead with veteran Semyon Varlamov to help ease Sorokin’s transition to North America.
Not since the arrival of Rick DiPietro have fans looked forward so much to seeing someone strap on the pads.
Things have not gone as planned.
Sorokin found himself thrust into the net as a last-second replacement when Varlamov went down in warmups against the Rangers in the second game of the season, In that game, the rookie looked like … well, a nervous rookie, giving up five goals. Matters improved somewhat when he played against New Jersey, but it was not until his third contest, a 4-3 overtime loss to Philadelphia, that the Islanders scored some goals for him. That game was on January 31.
A break in the Isles’ schedule due to COVID protocols allowed the team to play a well-rested Varlamov, who remains a solid and sometimes spectacular starter. This week, however, the pace of the schedule picks up (three games in four days, five in eight days) against teams the Islanders should have more than an even chance of beating, especially if they play the way they did against Boston this past Saturday.
Surely three games against Buffalo in that span offer the Isles a way to ease Sorokin into the lineup to ascertain where he is.
Trotz said Sorokin could get one of the Mon-Tues games in Buffalo. No concrete discussions on sending Sorokin to play a BPT game, but it's a possibility down the road.
— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) February 13, 2021
Much was made of Sorokin’s move to the taxi squad at the end of January. But he returned to the Islanders in time to face Philadelphia, so perhaps that should not tell us much. Cory Schneider has yet to see action this year, suggesting that Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz still have faith in Sorokin.
Now would be the time to show it.
Sorokin has admitted to reporters that he needs to adjust to the speed of the NHL game. It is hard to do that while sitting on the bench. Playing some AHL games may accelerate the transition, but that league’s reduced schedule poses challenges for assessing player development and gaining experience.
Yet the shorter NHL schedule featuring intradivision play that makes every point count means that the Isles will need to reach a conclusion sooner rather than later, with a Lamoriello favorite waiting in the wings.