Welcome to the win column Ilya Sorokin. (And welcome back from IR Anthony Beauvillier). It took longer than anyone (myself included) expected, but the Islanders FINALLY got a glimpse at their future in net, as well as their ideal lineup.
Tuesday night at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY, the Islanders got the band together and delivered the type of encore their loyal fans asked for in a 3-0 shutout victory over the Sabres; just one night after initially beating their Upstate New York neighbors 3-1.
On Monday night, the Boys from Long Island came out a little out of tune and needed Semyon Varlamov to take over during the first period until the rest of the unit settled down and got in sync.
Tuesday night there were no such flat notes early on as the Nassaumen hit all the right chords while jumping out to a fast 2-0 lead. (Those flat notes came later, but fear not for Ilya Sorokin led the way).
“It’s better when you start 2-0 instead of 0-2,” said Sorokin. “It’s better for your confidence.”
First came a redux performance from Captain Anders Lee as he took Noah Dobson’s cross-ice pass in stride and fired the puck into Buffalo’s wide-open net for a 1-0 Isles lead at 4:43 of the first period. It was an impressive goal and not just because Lee scored while flying down the left-wing, but also because of the silky sweet pass Dobson provided while leading the play going down the right side.
To follow the theme of encore performances, just like on Monday night, Tuesday night saw J.G. Pageau once more light the lamp as his snipe job from the left face-off circle beat Buffalo goalie Carter Hutton in the top right corner of the net for the 2-0 Isles lead. And Pageau was set up perfectly by the outlet pass from Ryan Pulock, so, everything seemed like it was all systems go for the Nassaumen and for Pageau, who extended his goal-streak to four-straight games.
Pageau’s goal was scored 7:15 after Lee’s and that’s important because it represented a turning point for the Boys from Long Island. And not a good one.
With 8:02 left in the opening period the Sabres found their legs and started to apply pressure to the Islanders, who had no answers, but also didn’t allow any goals thanks to the sharp play of goalie Sorokin.
Buffalo’s best scoring chance during the opening period was a breakaway by Taylor Hall, but Sorokin made it look easy as he made a pad save on Hall’s shot to keep the Sabres’ shiny off-season acquisition stuck at one-goal on the year.
The second period began with the Isles looking to get their jump back, however, the only jump visible on the ice belonged to Buffalo and was accentuated by Henri Jokiharju, who carried the puck into the Islanders’ zone and fired a heavy shot from the slot towards Ilya Sorokin.
Sorokin, who had been aggressive the few times he was challenged early in the game, came out to the top of the crease and went into a split as he gloved Jokiharju’s shot and flashed his glove with a flourish to snuff out Buffalo’s best scoring chance of the period.
That was about as much excitement as there was during the second period as the teams combined for just eight shots on goal (with the Isles taking five). Rather, the period was marked with sloppiness (on both sides), which could be partially attributed to some strong defense and also attributed to some fatigue as both sides started to feel the burn of their back-to-back set.
At one point, late in the period, the Sabres hemmed the Islanders’ top-line in their own zone for an exhausting 2:09 — although it seemed more like 5 minutes at least — but the Upstaters could not get a shot on goal. In fact, they went over 13-minutes without a shot on goal from the time Sorokin stoned Jokiharju until the period ended.
Barry Trotz offered this assessment of his defense after the game: “If you can defend fairly well, it becomes a bit of a security blanket when all hell breaks loose like it did in the second period.”
The third period began and Buffalo quickly got a shot on goal just seconds in to put to bed any speculation about a repeat performance from Monday night.
But that’s all it was, an innocent shot on goal. No goal for Buffalo and the Isles still led 2-0.
Then the Sabres heated up and really put the pressure on the Isles and Sorokin, who was going to have to really EARN his first career win and shutout.
“I don’t think about pressure,” said Sorokin after the game. “I just think about my game — what I can do and what I can control. It’s all about what I think beforehand during the game.”
“He was outstanding, unbelievable, the athleticism… he made some huge saves,” said Barry Trotz after the game.
First came a save on Victor Olofsson, who is likely going to have nightmares about Varlamov and Sorokin thanks to the number of Grade-A chances of his they stopped over the course of two-games.
And then came another big save during a third period full of them by Sorokin.
Eventually, Buffalo’s pressure led to Adam Pelech taking his second penalty of the game (this one for slashing Taylor Hall) and the Sabres’ vaunted power-play looked poised to end Sorokin’s bid at a shutout and maybe even a win.
Olofsson thought he got a measure of revenge when he cashed in on a sharp-angle shot from down-low, but Barry Trotz and his coaching staff challenged the play; claiming Buffalo was offside. (Spoiler: They were).
As the clock wound down it became obvious the Isles would secure the sweep, but the question lingered as to if Sorokin would become the first Islanders goalie since Anders Nilsson to earn his first career win and shutout in the same game.
Well, Anders Lee first had to get his second goal of the game as he scored into Buffalo’s empty net with less than a second remaining on the clock to bring the final score to 3-0.
Then the team was able to congratulate Sorokin with hugs on the ice as the young Russian netminder finally “arrived” in the NHL.
“It’s good for me to get my first win,” smiled Sorokin.
The Islanders are looking forward to many more to come.
Ilya Sorokin recorded his first career NHL win and first career NHL shutout. Sorokin is the first Isles goaltender to achieve those dual feats since Anders Nilsson on 3/4/2012. (Thank you Eric Hornick for the stat)…The Isles also have four shutouts in their first 15 games for the first time in their franchise history. (Again, thank you Eric Hornick)…J.G. Pageau’s goal extended his goal-streak to four-straight games…The Islanders went 0-for-2 on the power-play to fall to 9-for-39 on the season…The Islanders have recorded at least a point in eight-straight games.
Thursday February 18th Islanders at Penguins at PPG Paints Arena at 7pm(EST).