One of the defining characteristics of Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello's two-and-a-half year tenure on Long Island has been steady goaltending and this season is no different.
Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin have anchored the Islanders in net, contributing to the team's league-leading 2.17 goals against per game.
Varlamov is 13-4-3 this season with a 2.03 GAA, a .929 SV% and three shutouts, while Sorokin is 6-2-1 with a 2.20 GAA, a .910 SV% and two clean sheets. Both netminders are top-10 in goals against average among goalies who have played in at least nine games, with Varlamov ranked fourth and Sorokin 10th.
"Both goalies have been outstanding for us all year so far," Nick Leddy said. "We expect that."
While the Islanders goaltenders have alternated starts for the past 10 games - partially based on having three back-to-backs during that span - Trotz recently reiterated that Varlamov was his number one.
For good reason too. In the last calendar year - encompassing the playoffs and this season - Varlamov's numbers have been outstanding. The veteran netminder is a combined 24-11-3 with a 2.09 GAA, a .925 SV% and five shutouts over that span.
Video: BOS@NYI: Varlamov stones Krejci's point-blank chance
The 32-year-old has seemed to carry over his superb playoff performance (11-7-0, 2.14 GAA, .921 SV% 2SO) into the start of this season, recording a 1:42:10 shutout streak to start the season - a franchise record. Varlamov currently leads all East Division goalies in wins, GAA, SV% and shutouts so far this season.
He's been especially locked in of late, going 6-0-1 in his past seven starts, allowing 14 goals over that span for a 1.98 GAA and a .935 SV%. He was effectively robbed of a fourth shutout when Miles Wood scored with 13.2 seconds to play in a 2-1 win in New Jersey on March 2.
Trotz called Varlamov the Islanders best player in Saturday's 3-2 win over the Devils, a night where Varlamov rebounded after an early goal and effectively held the Islanders in the game with 17 saves in the second period.
Varlamov's been in net for all four wins over the Boston Bruins this season, allowing five total goals over that span. He's had to be at his best vs the Bs, given how tight-checking 11 of the 12 periods have been, the lone exception being the Islanders five-goal third period. Perhaps his best save of the season came on David Krejci in the most recent meeting, reaching back desperately to get a stick out to rob Krejci of an open net. The save was key to a penalty kill that Trotz called a turning point in the 2-1 win.
"Varly is our number one, no question," Trotz said. "To me when you've got a guy like Varly who has been in the league as long as him, people tend to say you've got Ilya here, to me you need to have about 100 NHL games. It has to be a bigger sample size before you can say you have a goalie controversy."
Varlamov's also been able to help ease Sorokin's transition to the NHL. The rookie described Varlamov as an older brother in his first media availability and it's been clear from their postgame embraces on the ice that the two Russians have a bond.
To his credit, Sorokin has steadily improved as the season has worn on for the Islanders. After dropping his first three games - including two games where he had no run support from the Islanders - Sorokin has won six-straight games.
Sorokin has allowed only nine goals in his last six games (6-0-0), including two shutouts in his first two wins, a pair of 20-save performances against Buffalo and Pittsburgh, respectively. While Sorokin's gotten more help in front of him during his last six starts, he's delivered some wow moments on his end, showcasing his athleticism, with acrobatic saves on Jake Voracek and Victor Olofsson coming to mind.
Trotz has also praised the young goalie for his focus in games, as he's had several outings where he's gone long stretches without seeing a shot, before being called upon to hold the fort during a late third period push. The confidence in Sorokin has allowed Varlamov to not be overburdened, especially with the Islanders in the midst of 19 games in 33 days.
Video: NYI@PHI: Sorokin shuts down Voracek with the glove
"His confidence is growing and you see that in net," Casey Cizikas said. "His work ethic in practice is above and beyond. He's working and he's getting better at his game. You're seeing that out there. He's made some really big saves for us at some key times."
It's still early days for Sorokin, but the early returns are that the Islanders have two more than capable goalies again and are always comfortable starting "a goalie born in Russia."
"It's nice to have confidence in the one-two punch back there," Jordan Eberle said. "It makes our job easier if something goes wrong. [Ilya's] playing well, [Varlamov] is playing well and we are just trying to defend as much as we can for them."