In his rookie NHL season, Ilya Sorokin has not had many opportunities to play, mainly because Semyon Varlamov has been so good and because the schedule hasn’t worked out in his favor. But with back-to-back games in Buffalo, the rookie goaltender made his fourth start on Tuesday night and recorded his first NHL win in a 3-0 Isles victory over the Sabres at KeyBank Center.
Sorokin, who was making his first start in more than two weeks, made 20 saves including a Taylor Hall backhand attempt on a breakaway in the first period and a great kick save on a one-timer from Sam Reinhart in the third period. Sorokin made 9 saves in the first period and then just had to turn aside 3 Buffalo shots in period two.
“I feel good,” said Sorokin who became the 7th rookie goalie in Islanders history to record a shutout. “First period and second a few shots. I stayed in the game and the players helped me and it’s good for me my first win.”
“He was outstanding,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “Unbelievable. You saw the athleticism and he made some huge saves.”
Sorokin made his first NHL start back on January 16th in the second game of the season for the Islanders against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. It was an unexpected appearance for the 25-year-old Russian netminder after Varlamov was injured during pre-game warmups and the Islanders lost that game 5-0. In his second start, Sorokin played well in a 2-0 loss to the Devils in New Jersey on January 24th. Start number three for Sorokin was on January 31st, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia.
But 16 days later, it all came together.
“He played great and really happy for him to get his first win and get a shutout,” said Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson. “You see that maturity and he’s continuing to get more comfortable each game and obviously it showed (Tuesday night). He played great for us and made some big saves.”
What the Islanders did on Tuesday night that they didn’t do in Sorokin’s first three starts was give him a lead. Anders Lee put the Islanders up 1-0 at 4:43 of the first period and then a little over 7 minutes later, Jean-Gabriel Pageau made it 2-0. It stayed that way until Lee scored his second goal of the game into an empty net with one second left in the third period.
To use a baseball term, Sorokin finally received some early run support.
“It’s good,” said Sorokin. “It’s better when you start 2-0 than 0-2. It’s good for your feeling.”
The Islanders played very well in front of Sorokin during the first two periods but then Buffalo started to pick up their game in the third and Sorokin raised his game with several key saves. It looked like his bid for a shutout was broken when Victor Olofsson scored on the power play with 6:59 left, but Trotz challenged that Jack Eichel was offsides entering the offensive zone 22 seconds before the goal was scored. After video review, the goal was taken away and the shutout was still intact.
After getting some help from his teammates, Sorokin slammed the door shut.
“They did a really good job in front of him,” said Trotz. “As the game went on, I felt that (Buffalo) started getting their legs and they were coming. (Sorokin) responded by bailing everybody else out so it was a nice compliment to the guys. They did it at the start and he did it at the end.”
If Varlamov continues to be a brick wall between the pipes, one must wonder when Sorokin’s next appearance will be. There has even been some discussion that Sorokin could see some action for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders’ AHL affiliate, just to get him some work.
But Sorokin made the most of his opportunity on Tuesday night and he looked a lot more comfortable than he did in his first NHL start.
“When you play play play, you’ll feel better every day and of course I feel better that I felt one month ago,” said Sorokin.
It took the Islanders a long time to get their 2014 third round pick to come over from Russia. It took Ilya Sorokin four games to notch his first NHL win. In the words of Tom Petty, “The Waiting Is The Hardest Part”.
Now there will be more waiting to see when, and perhaps where, Sorokin gets his next start.