After SIX-YEARS of waiting (and waiting and waiting…) the Islanders’ uber-hyped goaltender prospect, Ilya Sorokin made his NHL debut Saturday night in a 5-0 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden after the original starter, Semyon Varlamov was injured during warmups when a shot from teammate Cal Clutterbuck caught him under the mask and sending him to the ice in pain before leaving down the tunnel and not returning. A twist of fate Head Coach Barry Trotz was not pleased with.
“It wasn’t fair to Ilya and it wasn’t fair to Varly,” said Trotz after the game. “It’s unacceptable”
The Boys from Long Island had waited for Sorokin to arrive in the NHL ever since drafting him in the third-round (78th overall) of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. And just to give you a glimmer of why his arrival was so hotly hyped, Sorokin had long been referred to by those in the business as the “Best Goalie in The World Not in The NHL.”
Well, now he’s here.
And even though this clearly wasn’t how Sorokin and the Isles expected his NHL debut to come about, it was still a significant moment for the young netminder and for a franchise that has longed for a goalie of his caliber since Billy Smith last played a game in 1989.
Alas, this was one game Sorokin will probably not look back on with fondness as he was blitzed almost from the opening face-off. The Russian netminder made a save on the first shot he saw, a sharp-angle wrister from the Rangers’ Adam Fox at 1:34 of the first period. However, that good feeling didn’t last very long.
38-seconds after making his first career save, Sorokin was rudely welcomed to the National Hockey League as countryman Pavel Buchnevich sniped the puck in between his glove and side to put the Rangers up 1-0. The goal wasn’t all on Sorokin though as fellow youngster Noah Dobson had the puck stolen by Mika Zibanejad, who passed it over to Buchnevich for the score.
Trotz described his team’s performance throughout the evening in just four words, “we were junk today.”
The teams swapped penalties a couple of minutes later — Chris Kreider and Anders Lee the culprits — as the sloppiness of Game 1 spilled over into Game 2. But, neither team scored, so, play on.
Then, at the 13:46 mark of the first period, another of Sorokin’s countrymen, Artemi Panarin, who was sprung on a breakaway by Brendan Smith, broke in alone on the Isles’ goalie and whipped the puck over his glove for a 2-0 Islanders deficit.
Dobson continued his rough night with a penalty at 16:26 by closing his hand on the puck, but not to worry as the Islanders’ penalty-kill remained perfect in the early going of the season.
Onto the second period and in a near mirror-image of Thursday night, the teams combined for five more penalties (after six on opening night), with the Isles being penalized thrice. Barry Trotz especially couldn’t have been happy early in the period as Mathew Barzal was called for two penalties in a span of 2:21; at which time, Barzal had a TOI of 6:51. He would add just 9:55 more through the rest of the game for a total of 16:46.
“That’s a sin, that can’t happen,” said Trotz. “(Barzal needs to be) an impact player.”
At 5:57 of the middle period, the All-Russian assault continued as Buchnevich netted his second of the night when Sorokin misplayed the angle of the shot after one of the linesmen inadvertently interfered with defenseman Scott Mayfield, creating a brief odd-man situation that saw Adam Pelech caught in-between, thus unable to help his young teammate. 3-0 Rangers. 3-0 Russian Rangers vs. Russian Islander goalie.
As Captain Anders Lee said after the game, the team needs to play with a better structure and more responsibility in front of their young goalie. “He deserves much better than that.”
“We hung him out to dry,” added Trotz.
As MSG Networks’ Butch Goring pointed out during the broadcast, the ice dimensions are smaller in North America and thus create different angles for goalies to get accustomed to when coming from the bigger rinks elsewhere in the world. He wasn’t excusing Sorokin’s misplay, just explaining how the young goalie will need to learn to adjust. And for those on Twitter already panicking, fret not, Sorokin will be fine.
The All-Russia affair was crashed when Kaapo Kakko (Finnish) joined the goal-scoring party at 15:24 of the period to put the home team up 4-0; the same score by which the Nassaumen had won on Thursday night.
Then came the third period and the Rangers, like the Isles on Thursday, were mostly on cruise control outside of a couple more penalties and another Russian goal — Panarin netted his second of the game on the power-play at 15:56 and closed the book on Sorokin’s NHL debut; 5-0 Rangers.
It wasn’t pretty for Sorokin, Dobson, Barzal and company, but it’s only one game and the team will be back at it again on Monday as the Bruins come to Nassau Coliseum for the Isles Home Opener.
The Islanders went 0-for-4 on the power-play and 7-for-8 on the penalty-kill, putting them at 2-for-12 on the power-play and 10-for-11 on the penalty-kill through two games…Ryan Puluck, who went to the dressing room midway through the first period and did not return until the start of the second, finished with the second-highest ice-time on the team with a TOI of 21:23. (Only Scott Mayfield — 22:37 — had more)
Next Game: Islanders vs. Bruins on Monday at 5pm(EST) at Nassau Coliseum.