Islanders’ Semyon Varlamov a Vezina Trophy favorite for this season

It’s been written about a length now how important goaltending has become to the overall success of the Islanders. As one of the stabilizing facets under the Lou Lamoriello-Barry Trotz regime, you would think the Vezina Trophy would have made its way back to Long Island by now.

Hall of Famer Billy Smith remains the only Vezina winner in the franchise’s history when he won the award in 1982. Robin Lehner came close to winning the award in 2019, only to fall short to Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. And Semyon Varlamov, the goalie who replaced Lehner, had a Vezina-worthy season in 2020-21 but finished fifth in the voting.

This year though could be different, as there seems to be more faith in Varlamov as one of the heavy favorites to receive the biggest prize for a goaltender.

According to vegasinsider.com, Varlamov has the fourth-best odds to win the Vezina. Ahead of him are Vasilevskiy, Marc-Andre Fleury (the reigning winner) and Phillipp Grubauer, who was a finalist last year in Colorado and is now a member of the expansion Seattle Kraken.

That’s a star-studded list. But it’s definitely one that Varlamov deserves to be on.

Last year the 33-year-old was tremendous for the Isles in the regular season posting 19 wins and having a GAA (goals-against average) and SV% (save percentage) both in the top-five of goalies in the league. Varlamov was able to form a formidable duo with rookie Ilya Sorokin in net, and the two showed terrific chemistry as a 1A-1B combo. The Russian native was a key part of the Islanders getting within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals and head coach Barry Trotz acknowledged him as the team’s MVP for the season after he was snubbed in the trophy Voting.

“I’m biased a little bit because I see Varly from a day-in and day-out aspect,” Trotz said. “He’s probably been our MVP this year. I can’t challenge the three finalists, [the Lightning’s Andrei] Vasilevskiy has been outstanding, [the Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre] Fleury has been outstanding, I’ve had [the Avalanche’s] Philipp Grubauer and he’s been outstanding. I’m biased because I get to see Varly and I know how much he means to us in a very competitive division this year.”

Trotz might not need to have the same defense of his starting goaltender based on the expectations now of he and his team for 2021-22. Experts see the Islanders as a threat to win the Stanley Cup with Varlamov being a huge part of why they are in that position. He’s an elite keeper. And it needs to be said — which has already been recognized by yours truly — that Varlamov and Sorokin make up arguably the top goaltending tandem in the NHL after Fleury was dealt from Vegas to Chicago earlier this offseason.

Securing the Vezina would be a huge accomplishment for Varlamov after how close he came to winning it once before. He finished second in voting for the 2012-13 season when he backstopping the Colorado Avalanche. It’s crazy to believe he hasn’t been in consideration since. Until now.

Varlamov has reached that high level again. And it’s why he is a favorite going into this year to bring home the greatest honor a goaltender can receive.

 

 

 

Do the Islanders have the best goaltending duo in the NHL now?

Earlier this week, future Hall of Famer goalie Marc-Andre Fleury notified the Chicago Blackhawks that he will indeed play for them this upcoming season. Fleury, who was traded back on July 27th, is now the head guy in Chicago after forming a formidable duo in Vegas for the past year-plus with Robin Lehner.

Last year, the two were declared the league’s best goaltending tandem between the pipes. Fleury won the Vezina Trophy for the first time in his career and together he and Lehner were awarded the William Jennings Trophy.

But with them no longer together, the question now is: Which team does have the best twosome in net? Look no further than the Islanders.

The duet of Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin — already considered the top pairing in the Metropolitan Division after all the dust settled in free agency — have serious consideration for top billing at this moment. Both were terrific in 2020-21 and played a pivotal role in the Islanders getting back to the third round of the postseason for the second year in a row.

Stats-wise, Varlamov and Sorokin combined for a 2.23 GAA in the regular season (second in the league) and owned the top spot for save percentage with a stellar .925. Individually, they both excelled too. Varlamov, 33, played at a Vezina-worthy level all year and in the playoffs. He recorded a career-high in shutouts with seven — which tied for the best among goalies with Seattle’s Phillipp Grubauer — and his save percentage (.929) and goals-against (2.04) were also the best since turning pro.

Sorokin, who is on the verge of a contract extension, shined backing up Varlamov and was one of the top freshman netminders in a star-studded class. The Russian import was second behind Detroit’s Alex Nedeljkovic in several categories and won 13 of his 21 starts.

Now, you can make the point that there’s some bias knowing this is an Islander-centric piece and because Varlamov and Sorokin do get the benefit of playing in for a Barry Trotz-coached squad that is defense-first. Both are true. And yes, there’s several other duos that could be given that title — Phillipp Grubauer (Vezina finalist) and Chris Dreidger in Seattle, Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight in Florida, Fleury and Kevin Lankinen in Chicago.

But those tandems are new in a sense. The chemistry and rapport Varlamov and Sorokin have already and will keep moving forward needs to be accounted for. Trotz a few months back acknowledged the dynamic between the two as unbelievable.

“I think as friends, as teammates and countrymen, Trotz said. “If you know anything about Varly, Varly is a great mentor for not only a Russian goalie but any goalie in the NHL. He’s got a great demeanor.”

Goaltending is such a valuable piece to winning in the NHL and the Isles for the last few years have seen how far it can take you. Each of the duos they’ve had have been could have been argued as being the de-facto best in the league.

The season isn’t upon us for another two months, but at this moment though, Varlamov and Sorokin just might be that.

Scott Mayfield really took his game to new heights in the postseason. He seems to be doing the same now with his free time in the summer.

Mayfield was on NHL Network yesterday discussing his newest venture of flying thunderbirds with his brother Patrick. Brother Patrick is a captain in the Air Force.

“It was cool,” he said in the clip. “I was a little nervous. There’s so many buttons and it’s a little small back here, so I kept my legs in. I didn’t want to touch anything I wasn’t supposed to. I sat pretty tight to myself.”

 

Semyon Varlamov’s dominance of the Rangers adds to a recurring theme for the Islanders in recent years

Maybe we should have expected this. Maybe this is just how the Islanders have continued to have an edge in a rivalry that in reality has been one-sided for close to half-a-decade outside of last season. What is this in reference to? It’s Semyon Varlamov continuing his dominance of the Rangers.

The Islanders came into last night’s tilt against the Rangers needing a big time performance from everyone in the lineup, and they received it, shutting out (and I use that term literally) the Blueshirts 3-0 and moving within one win of a third consecutive playoff berth. The man who backstopped the victory, Varlamov, was once again perfect, turning away all 25 shots he faced for his league-leading and new career-high sixth shutout. Varlamov’s goose egg also marked his third against the Rangers this season, all at Madison Square Garden, making him the first goalie — not only in franchise history but NHL history — to put up three shutouts at MSG in a season, that according to Isles maestro statistician Eric Hornick.

“It’s always fun to play in front of Rangers and and Isles fans,” said Varlamov in the postgame. “There’s a lot of Islanders’ fans that come here and support us. Every time I play, I try to have fun.”

Well keeping on that quote, the 33-year-old has had buckets of fun when the Rangers have been the opposition this season. Varlamov after last night is 4-1-0 with a 0.81 GAA in five starts against that vaunted Blueshirts offense, with the only defeat coming on Coliseum ice earlier this month. He clearly owns the Rangers and he’s not the only Isles goalie to do so in recent seasons.

Before Varlamov made his way to Long Island two summers ago, the Isles were blessed with another netminder who was the Blueshirts’ kryptonite, Jaroslav Halak. In his four seasons with the Islanders, Halak went 11-3-0 in 14 starts against those guys from Seventh Avenue.  Most of the time too, those wins came against the Rangers’ all-world goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. Halak loved to play and beat the Rangers, which has continued with Varlamov and will also hopefully translate to rookie Ilya Sorokin.

Sorokin has only faced the Rangers twice this year but will more than likely see a heavy dose of them over the next several years.

Back to Varlamov though. He was already having a stellar season without all the excellent showings against the Rangers. His play took a small step back from being Vezina-worthy early on, but even so, Varlamov has left no doubt he is clearly the Islanders’ number-one in net going into the postseason.

The Islanders clinched the season series against the Rangers again for the fifth time in the last seven seasons with last night’s win. A lot of it can be credited to Varlamov and his dominant play. That dynamic shouldn’t be all that surprising.

He’s continued the trend of Islander goalies having their way with the Blueshirts.

If Varlamov’s stats against the Rangers aren’t corky enough, try the one that came out about Leo Komarov last night. In the three years Komarov has been an Islander, the team is undefeated when he scores in the game.

Komarov notched the game-winner early on in the first period off a great cross-ice feed from Jordan Eberle. His celly too was fantastic.

No one could have used a goal the way Oliver Wahlstrom did last night. His wicked snipe on the power play was his first since March 25th in Boston.

Wahlstrom’s confidence looked like it had returned after a tough stretch that saw him called out for his play and led to a few healthy scratches.

Islanders showing very clearly they own the best goaltending tandem in the NHL

Unless you’ve missed it the past three years, goaltending has become an incredible strength for the Islanders as its pertained to their success. It was their backbone in 2018-19 — led by Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss — which resulted in a 103-point season and a second round playoff appearance. Last season, this time with Semyon Varlamov and Greiss at the helm, there were some struggles but it was solid enough to get the Isles into the postseason and eventually propelled them all the way to within two games of the Stanley Cup Finals. And now it’s continued into this year, in a shortened 56-game sprint nonetheless.

Right now, the Isles conceivably have the best goaltending duo in the entire league consisting of Semyon Varlamov and rookie Ilya Sorokin. The proof of that statement was furthered last night after Sorokin’s outstanding performance in the team’s 2-1 come from behind win in Philadelphia. The victory made it eight straight wins for the the 25-year-old freshman sensation.

“He [Ilya] was our best player,” teammate J.G. Pageau said in the postgame. “I think that’s what gave us the boost. He was able to give us only one goal to come back from in the third, and then I think we really came back in the third as a team.”

The tandem of Varlamov and Sorokin also have the numbers to back up why their the top billing. The twosome have combined for 21 wins (Varly 13, Sorokin 8), which is the most for any duo in the league. Just to show the disparity of that stat: Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, has tallied the most wins by any goaltender with 20. His backup, Curtis McElhinney, only has three. More so, they have driven the Isles to be fourth-least in goals allowed (73), the best save percentage in the league at .921%, the second-best GAA allowing an impressive 2.12 and have five shutouts combined.

What those numbers proves is power of balance the Isles have now with Varlamov and Sorokin can’t be underestimated.

Beyond as a duo, individually each goalie is thriving. Varlamov is in the midst of one of the best seasons as a pro and has been playing at a Vezina-worthy level. Varly is our number one, no question,” head coach Barry Trotz said earlier this seaaon. “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.”

The 32-year-old hasn’t been in that award  conversation since he was nominated since 2013-14, when he won 41 games and backstopped the Colorado Avalanche to a Central Division title. He should be in those talks again as his game this year has been fantastic and he’s taken his tremendous showing from in the postseason bubble and taken it to another level through this point of the regular season.

Then there’s his counterpart Sorokin, who is truly living up to all the hype that came with him being dubbed the “best goaltender not playing in North America” before he signed back in the summer. How his game has taken shape after a few shaky starts to begin the season shows just how damn good of a goalie he is. Sorokin is sporting an astounding 1.97% GAA after his 36-save performance against Philly, and he’s allowed three or less goals in   his last six starts. If not for Washington’s Vitek Vanecek and Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov, the case could be made that Sorokin would be leading the Calder Trophy race right now. That could also be said for the other Islanders’ rookie, Oliver Wahlstrom.

The Isles aren’t far removed from when Lehner (who became a Vezina finalist) and Greiss helped win the William H. Jennings Trophy. That duo didn’t get the love it truly deserved as possibly the NHL’s best one-two punch in net. Varlamov and Sorokin have a chance to repeat that feat as such and possibly eclipse those two as the season continues.

As News12’s Rob Del Muro pointed out to me last night, with the Islanders still winning and their two goaltenders rolling, the team is set up with the perfect scenario.

He’s right in the evaluation. And it’s that way because the Isles are showing their goaltending duo is head and shoulders above the rest of the league.

Islanders’ Semyon Varlamov having a Vezina-worthy season thus far

Only one time in his career was Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy. It was 2013-14 when he was backstopping the Colorado Avalanche, a star-studded cast who were the Central Division champions. Varlamov finished second in the voting behind Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask; Rask earned 103 votes, Varlamov 90.

Since that magical season, the 32-year-old has not even sniffed the best goalie in the league conversation. But his performance during the Isles’ run in the bubble, coupled with his start to this year, could finally change the narrative.

A quarter of the season through Varlamov has been a rock in between the pipes for the Islanders, who are now rolling on an eight-game point streak.

Varlamov has won seven of his 11 starts, which is third among all NHL goalies. His goals-against average is a sparkling 1.89 while his .931 save percentage are both in the top-three in the NHL among netminders who have ten or more games played, according to quanthockey.com. And he is tied with the Ducks’ Jon Gibson for the league-lead in shutouts with three. The Islanders as a team have four shutouts, the latest being rookie Ilya Sorokin’s on Tuesday against Buffalo which also accounted for his first NHL win.

“He’s been pretty incredible all year against all the teams he’s faced honestly,” said teammate Cal Clutterbuck of Varlamov last week. “It seems like he keeps getting better, calm and cool in there. We’re lucky to have him.”

Clutterbuck isn’t far off when acknowledging the Islanders have been fortunate to have the big Russian. Early on this season, he was clearly the club’s MVP as the Isles struggled to find their game at both ends of the ice. Recently Varlamov has played an instrumental role in the team’s surge back up the standings, which currently sits them second in the MassMutual East Division.

“He brings trust to the group,” coach Barry Trotz said a week ago. “He brings consistency to the group.”

Goaltending has been the backbone of the Islanders now for the last three seasons thanks to the structure in place and the tutelage from Piero Greco and “goalie whisper” Mitch Korn. Robin Lehner — who was a Vezina finalist himself — and Thomas Greiss won the William M. Jennings Trophy back in 2018-19. Varlamov and Greiss followed it up this year prior with some outstanding play in the playoffs.

But all that success translates back to one thing: consistency.

That one facet was going to be crucial in the shortened season format, especially from a goaltending standpoint. Varlamov has provided it in droves through this point of the year — more than at any time in years past — which shows he’s on top of his game this season. He’s playing at a Vezina-worthy level right now. And if it continues and the Islanders keep building on their recent success, there’s no reason he can’t win the award.

The Isles haven’t had a Vezina Trophy winner since Billy Smith won it in 1981-82.

That might change this year with Semyon Varlamov with how he’s looked this season.

The Islanders seem to be a team other clubs around the league should be fear, according to Sports Illustrated. The team’s recent hot surge has them on the minds of many.

One of the critical aspects of the piece is that youth is being served on the varsity. The confidence of Noah Dobson, arrival of Ilya Sorokin and the overall look of the team make them a tough out on any given night.

There was no mention of Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows, but both have added something extra to the offense while being flipped back and forth from the taxi squad.

Semyon Varlamov’s hot start a great thing for the Islanders

For the Islanders to have a third consecutive winning season, several things are going to have to fall in their favor. And in a compacted 56-game season such as this year, getting solid goaltending is right there at the very top. So far, that’s been what we’ve seen from Semyon Varlamov.

The Isles’ number one goalie has gotten off to a fantastic start to the season albeit the small hiccup on Saturday night, where he was forced to miss the game against the Rangers after taking a shot off the mask in warmups. After yesterday’s 1-0 win over the Bruins, he’s now 2-0-0 to begin this year and hasn’t allowed a single goal in both of his starts.

He’s also now the only goaltender in franchise history to start a season with two straight goose eggs.

“I just think he’s really calm, that’s the No. 1 thing,” head coach Barry Trotz told reporters after the win. “I just thought early on he was a big reason why we got a win — he made some really good saves against a really good team. He just calmed our game.”

A lot of people had question marks as to whether or not Varlamov would emulate his play from the postseason, when he was outstanding and close to a fortress as possible. Three games in, he’s proven that performance was no fluke.

Per NYIHockeyNow’s Andrew Battifarano, Varlamov has allowed just three goals over his last four starts going back to the bubble. That amounts to 133 saves on 136 shots against.

This type of success early on from Varlamov could prove crucial as the season progresses on. The Isles are most likely going to be in a dogfight for one of the four playoff spots in the East division. So having quality goaltending from your presumed starter helps tenfold. And because Trotz’s club’s the last two seasons have been built on stable defense, and even more importantly, goaltending, it has greater significance.

Varlamov wasn’t the established starter in the regular season last year, having shared the goaltending duties with Thomas Greiss. Now Varlamov is top billing and it looks like he’s determined not to let it go.

“That’s the best result after two games that I’ve ever had,” Varlamov said. “I’ve never gotten back-to-back shutouts in the beginning of the season. I had some seasons were I felt great, but still the outcome was different. I’m pretty happy about the results.”

Ilya Sorokin was and is the hot shot goaltending prospect the organization finally got able to come over in the offseason. And while he did get shelled in his first NHL game on Saturday — a 5-0 blowout loss to the Rangers — Sorokin is still green and needs to be eased in. That’s where Varlamov’s hot start may also be a blessing in disguise as it takes the pressure off him.

It’s still early but Semyon Varlamov looks like he’s in the zone. His start to the season has been very encouraging.

In the the short and long term, that’s a great thing for him. More importantly, it’s a great thing for the Islanders.

Last night’s win marked the first time since November 2013 the Islanders defeated Boston on home ice. It wasn’t an underlying storyline going into the game, but it could prove huge going forward.

Said Ryan Pulock: “It seems like every time we play them it’s pretty tight. They play a structured game, a heavy game, kind of playoff hockey and we like to play that we too.”

The Isles will square off with the B’s another seven times in the next 53 games and they might all have the same style as what the two teams showed.

The Islanders penalty kill has been sensational to begin the year. They’ve allowed just one power play goal in 14 attempts. A lot of that improvement has resulted from J.G. Pageau and Anthony Beauvillier playing a role.

Pageau has also done it in the faceoff circle and finally got his first goal of the year which was the game-winner.

To take a quote from the legendary Clu Haywood of Major League: “Boy, you really knocked the crap out of that one!”

20 names in New York sports that made 2020 tolerable

In 2020, we learned just how small sports were on the grand scale. Even so, these New Yorkers brought hope and joy to the beleaguered area.

Ah, 2020…we knew ye too well.

“Auld Lang Syne” will hit a little differently this New Year’s Eve, as the country and the world entire prepares to bid farewell to one of the most brutal 366-day cycles in recent memory. The year even took away sports at one point in time, which might’ve almost been seen as a merciful act considering the modern endeavors of New York sports. Metropolitan athletics have consistently fallen far short of their inflated expectations. Save for the New York Islanders’ surprise trip to the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals, each of New York’s teams either endured early postseason exits or missed out entirely.

Yet, there were several names in the sports world, before and after the period of pause and reflection, that gave the metropolitan area hope in this brutal season. ESM bids farewell with 20 legends…

Josh Allen

So brutal were metropolitan affiars this season that we had to turn to our friends in Western New York. But, unless you’re a Jets who has two annual meetings with Allen to dread for the foreseeable future, it’s hard not to appreciate what Allen has done for the Bills’ franchise, defying draft day expectations out of Wyoming and playing a vital role in ending their 17-year playoff drought and turning them into Super Bowl contenders. Entering Sunday’s regular season final against Miami (1 p.m. ET, CBS), Allen has broken Jim Kelly’s record for most touchdown passes in a single season of Bills football (34) and is within striking distance of Drew Bledsoe’s yardage record of the same variety. Allen has also taken home six Offensive Player of the Week Awards in his career (four this season), second only to the ten earned by the aforementioned Kelly.

Mathew Barzal

As the New York Islanders go through a period of both transition and prosperity…being one of the rare metropolitan teams to experience postseason success in 2020…Barzal has evolved into a face of the franchise, taking over from the Toronto-based John Tavares. Appropriately, it was Barzal that informed the hockey world that the Islanders were going to be a problem in the bubble, scoring the game-winning goal in the their 2-1 win over Washington in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal round, a tally that gave the Islanders a 3-0 lead in the series. Ironically, Barzal’s moment of glory came in Tavares’ current stomping grounds of Scotiabank Arena.

Mekhi Becton

The New York Jets have a lot of questions to answer once the calendar officially flips. But Becton, the Jets’ first-round choice (11th overall) out of Louisville is crossing one need off their offseason shopping list. Called upon to protect Sam Darnold’s blindside, Becton has become one of the most dominant young blockers in football, ranking at or near the top of several analytical rookie lists. The Jets aren’t quite sure who their quarterback is going come next September. They do know, however, that Becton will be serving as his security.

James Bradberry

Formerly under general manager Dave Gettleman’s watch in Carolina, Bradberry came to New York with relatively little fanfare. He has since gone on to become one of the biggest reasons why the Giants have a shot at anotherwise inexplicable playoff spot. Bradberry has done his part to make sure that Big Blue is at least well represented in the SportsCenter Top 10, making several acrobatic interceptions that led to his first Pro Bowl nomination.

Steve Cohen

A lot of adjustment was required to make it through 2020, but the Mets remained their same disappointing selves, tying with the defending champion Washington Nationals for last place in the NL East. But, thanks to new owner Cohen, there’s legitimate hope in the organization for the first time in ages. The Great Neck-born hedge fund manager has immediately endeared himself to fans with promises to use his surplus budget in free agency (which manifested early with the signing of James McCann), his willingness to clean house shortly after his arduous purchase was completed, and his lighthearted interactions with supporters on Twitter.

Gerrit Cole

The shortened seasons denied Yankees fans the full Cole experience in the early going, but it’s safe to say the newly minted $324 million man lived up to the hype. He saved the best for last, earning a 1.00 ERA over four starts in September and later struck out 13 without a walk in the Yankees’ Wild Card Series win over Cleveland. Such a feat had been accomplished since Tom Seaver’s endeavor in the 1973 NLCS.

Stefon Diggs

The trade for Diggs feels like it happened years ago, as do all the tweets and thoughtpieces that claim the Bills gave up too much for the former Minnesota Viking. But the Minneapolis Miracle worker has made the four-pick exchange worth it, even erasing the fact that the Bills missed out on rookie sensation Justin Jefferson. Like Allen, Diggs is rewriting the Bills’ record book, breaking Eric Moulds’ former marks for single-season for receptions (120) and yardage (1,459). Both of tallies lead the NFL entering the final week of the regular season.

Kevin Durant

Brooklyn Nets fans received a bit of a special Christmas gift this year, as they were finally treated to Kevin Durant’s debut in black and white. Teamed up with Kyrie Irving, the ten-time All-Star hasn’t lost a step, putting 28.3 points and 5.8 rebounds over his first four games. Durant apparently saved the best for first, torching his former compatriots from Golden State for 22 points on opening night before scoring 29 in a Christmas win over Boston.

Sabrina Ionescu

The draft lottery has turned into a cruel custom for the blue and orange hardwood representatives in New York, but the Liberty hit the jackpot with the drafting of Ionescu in April. The city didn’t get the full Ionescu treatment in her rookie season, with an ankle injury limiting her metropolitan antics to three games. But the Oregon alumna is on pace to be a true face of women’s sports in the area, with her jersey sales ranking fourth in the WNBA this season. Ionescu gave her new Brooklyn fanbase something to be excited about before fate stepped in, scoring 33 points in only her second career contest.

Kyrie Irving

Irving’s 2020 heroics likewise required patience. He partook in only 20 games during the shortened 2019-20 campaign (none of them during the Nets’ endeavor in Disney World) but managed to drop 54 points (on 19-of-23 shooting from the field) in a January win over Chicago. Irving likewise emerged as one of the most vocal voices in social change alongside his basketball brothers and sisters. He was more than willing to carry on his basketball antics on the court once he was ready to get rolling again, torching the Celtics for 37 points on Christmas.

Jazmine Jones

Perhaps no one defined the 2020 New York Liberty sense of resiliency and development better than Jones. Bookending the first round of the 2020 WNBA Draft with Ionescu, Jones took full advantage of relatively consequence-free basketball, making herself essential when the Liberty’s plethora of veterans potentially return in 2021. The Louisville alumna took over point guard duties after Ionescu went down, resuming a role she last played during her high school days at Florida A&M University’s Developmental Research School. She put up 10.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game, earning a spot on the league’s official all-rookie team.

Brock Nelson

Signer of a six-year deal to remain an Islander before the season started, Nelson became one of the team’s most reliable and clutch performers during their run to the conference finals. He scored three game-winning goals and finished second on the team in postseason points with 18.

New York Guardians Defense

The second attempt at XFL feels like an endeavor from years ago, but briefly took over the February calendar with a slate that wound up lasting five games. It allowed MetLife Stadium to enjoy at least some form of victorious football, as the local Guardians won each of their two games at the venue. Their defense was particularly strong, as Cavon Walker led the league in sacks (4.5) and six different defenders earned at least one interception.

Artemi Panarin

If there was ever a year to not take risks, 2020 was certainly at, or at least near, the top of the list. Despite Panarin’s many talents, many saw the Rangers’ seven-year, $81.5 million deal with the former Blue Jacket (a smaller price tag after Panarin spurned the Islanders) as too much dedication to a single player. But Panarin lived up to the massive deal, finishing off the shortened season with a career-best 95 points (good for a third-place tie on the NHL ledger).

Logan Ryan

As a Rutgers alum, New Jersey native, and the man who took Tom Brady’s final New England throw back for a touchdown, Ryan seemed destined for a metropolitan collaboration. The Giants took the plunge shortly before the season began, and Ryan has rewarded them with a strong showing that has included good coverage, 91 tackles, and an interception that clinched the season sweep against Washington (which will come up big if the two sides tie for the NFC lead after Sunday). It has been an emotional season for Ryan, whose wife Ashley endured an ectopic pregnancy. Ryan later inked a three-year deal to stay with the Giants on Christmas Day.

Kailen Sheridan

The National Women’s Soccer League was the first North American team sports league to make its return this summer, staging its annual Challenge Cup festivities in Utah. Sky Blue FC, their debut season at Red Bull Arena pushed back due to obvious reasons, had struggled in recent years but put on a strong showing with a fourth-place finish. Sheridan was the driving force behind the effort, winning the tournament’s Golden Glove award to the tune of three shutouts. Sky Blue also had a respectable showing in the NWSL’s fall showcase, earning a matching fourth-place mark.

Tom Thibodeau

Wishing someone association with the James Dolan-owned sounds like a punishment one would avoid giving their worst enemy…at least their worst hardwood enemy. Thibodeau, however, returns to the ranks of head coaching to face what’s his toughest challenge yet. But, unlike his predecessors, it appears Thibodeau has a plan for the Knicks moving forward, seeking to change the culture and build a team-centered atmosphere. So far, it’s played in the Knicks’ favor. The team has played competitively in the infantile stages of the season, sitting at 2-2 after the first four games (including a dominant win over Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee). They’ll have chance to end the season on the right note on Friday night against Toronto (7:30 p.m. ET, MSG).

Semyon Varlamov

The jokes against Islander goaltending officially ended, or were at least put on hold, through Varlamov’s efforts. He came up with several big saves during the playoff trek and was one of only six goalies inside the Canada bubbles to record multiple shutouts. His 2.14 goals against average was also fourth amongst goalies with at least 10 playoff starts.

Quinnen Williams

Williams retook control of the narrative surrounding his career, as many felt he was destined to be a bust after struggling in his rookie season (and with Pro Bowler Josh Allen going shortly after him). But Williams responded with a stellar sophomore season, leading all interior defensive linemen in both traditional and analytical categories as one of the most consistent backfield invaders in the league.

Mika Zibanejad

Zibanejad is perhaps responsible for the most dominant one-man effort of the 2020 sports season, tallying a jaw-dropping five goals, including the overtime winner in a March win over the Capitals. The yield from one of the biggest robberies in New York sports memory (the biggest loss being Derick Brassard to Ottawa in the trade), Zibanejad again put up his best numbers despite a shutdown, scoring 41 goals (fifth in the league) in 57 games.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Islanders: Expectations for Semyon Varlamov

New York Islanders

The New York Islanders signed goalie Semyon Varlamov to a 4-year deal in free agency last year. Varlamov proved to everyone that his 2013-14 Vezina Trophy finalist season wasn’t a fluke. Varlamov recorded 19 wins, a .914 save percentage, and a 2.62 GAA in 39 games started.

In the playoffs, Varlamov would continue to shine with the Islanders as he single-handily won them a couple of games. Former Islanders’ goalie Thomas Greiss obviously held down a couple of wins too. Greiss relieved a lot of pressure off of Varlamov all season long. But, Thomas Greiss is in Detroit now, and rookie Ilya Sorokin takes the backup slot. There are some big expectations for the Islanders’ star goalie going into the 2020-2021 season.

Top 10 Goalie

The Islanders are not a team that can put up four goals every night and wins just off of firepower alone. They win off of their defensive schemes and good goalie play. If the Islanders want to make another deep playoff run, Semyon Varlamov must take another leap.

Varlamov might be 32 years old, but maybe you can still teach an old dog new tricks. I believe the stats Varlamov needs for him to be considered a top 10 goalie reads as follows. He needs under a 2.55 GAA, with a .917 save percentage. I assume he will play over half the 56 games during this season as well. If he plays 31/56 games with those aforementioned stats, he will be a top 10 goalie.

Mentoring Ilya Sorokin Correctly

How would one even measure if Varlamov’s teachings affect Sorokin’s’ playing abilities? “That’s another dumb point, all you make is dumb points.” Marc-Andre Fleury mentored Matt Murray, and the Penguins won 2 Stanley Cups in 3 years because of that.

Ben Bishop mentored Andrei Vasilevski, and Vasilevski has been a top 3 goalie for the past 5 years. Braden Holtby mentored Ilya Samsonov, and now Samsonov is one of the top young goalies in the league. If Semyon Varlamov can mentor Ilya Sorokin in the same ways that these guys did for their backups, the Islanders will win a Stanley Cup soon. There is no doubt in my mind about this at all. I expect Varlamov to do this successfully.

The Islanders’ goaltending situation is the best it has been in a long time

It’s been a few days now since the New York Islanders’ fantastic playoff run came to an end. That time has allowed for a lot of reflection on how they got as far as they did and what the future may hold heading into next season, whenever that begins.

One of the keys to the future — and hopefully more success for the organization — is their goaltending situation. Even with the news this morning that Thomas Greiss — whose been a soldier for the team the last five years and is an unrestricted free agent going into next month — will most likely test the market, the Isles’ situation in goal is as good as it’s been in a long time.

Now some can argue their goaltending had reached its peak two years ago. The duo that season, Greiss and Robin Lehner, backstopped the team to a 103-point season, a first-round sweep of the Penguins and was awarded the William M. Jennings Trophy while Lehner was a Vezina Trophy finalist. Or even prior to that when Jaro Halak and Greiss manned the net a few years back. Both those situations brought good success to the Islanders, but didn’t last long-term. But what they have now has the makings of being one of the best in the game, not just now but for the foreseeable future.

It begins with Semyon Varlamov and ends with Ilya Sorokin.

Varlamov’s coming off a career-reviving playoff run and has solidified himself as the true No. 1 in net. After a so-so regular season, he proved a lot of his doubters wrong by backstopping the Islanders get to the Eastern Conference Finals and nearly stealing the series against Tampa. His wonderful performance also showed why Lamoriello was so keen on getting him last summer.

“Varly has been there for us all along,” were the words of teammate Cal Clutterbuck during the Tampa series. Heed the words of Andy Greene as well too. “He fights out there and battles with us.”

Varlamov has another three years left on his contract, but after his performance this summer, it feels like he’s got a couple of good years ahead of him. Maybe not only as a starter but a mentor also to the phenom about to be described.

That phenom is Sorokin. This is where things look even brighter.

Sorokin, is the 25-year-old Russian star whom the organization finally was able to sign and get over to North America this summer. Despite not having played a game yet on this side of the pond, he is expected to be the future in goal for the franchise for what should be the next decade.

All the Islanders can do is look a few miles down the road to Manhattan and see what the Rangers have with his friend and fellow countrymen, Igor Shesterkin, for what they hope to see.

The numbers he put up in his KHL career were incredible and earned him the reputation as the “best goalie not in the NHL”. To the Isles’ fortune though, Sorokin is already signed for next season and got to experience the likes of the postseason because of the time he spent with the team while they were in the bubble.

“From an organizational standpoint, he’s working with our goaltending coaches all the days,” head coach Barry Trotz said about Sorokin last week. “He’s taking English lessons daily, with a tutor and learning that, and he’s getting English all day and hanging out and getting the personalities. From a standpoint of integration, if you’re a player coming in, there couldn’t be a better situation.”

“With Ilya’s background, that could create some tension. It has created zero tension, and you find out what a terrific person he is and how he’s integrated with the other players. He’s fit in seamlessly,” Trotz also added.

The Islanders have a lot to look forward to in the coming years. Their goaltending though, might be the most exciting out of all of it.

Their situation is in really good hands and is the best it’s been in a long time.

New York Islanders: 3 Stars of Game 5

New York Islanders, Anders Lee

The New York Islanders are not going home just yet. The Islanders pull off a double-overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning to force a game 6. I know I say this often, but this was possibly the most exciting game in 27 years for the Islanders. Being on the brink of elimination and facing a powerhouse team, the odds were all against the Isles. Somehow, someway the Islanders were able to win and stay in the bubble. There were three stars in yesterday’s win against the Lightning. This team needed to deliver, and that’s precisely what they did.

Semyon Varlamov

Semyon Varlamov stood on his head last night and propelled the Isles to a victory. Varlamov stopped 36 shots of the 37 that came his way. Varly’s best save came in the first overtime when Nikita Kucherov shot a wrister from above the left faceoff circle. Scott Mayfield was screening Varlamov unintentionally, and somehow Varly was able to go from left to right quick enough to stop the puck. Varlamov’s night was highlighted with his celebration slide into the pile-up around Jordan Eberle. If Varlamov continues to play like he did last night, the Isles will be hard to put away.

Jordan Eberle

I mean, finally, Jordan Eberle decided to actually play. Last year, Eberle was a top playoff performer as the Isles swept the Penguins in the first round. Eberle makes this list merely because of his game-winning goal. “The goal heard around the Island” is what I like to call it. The Islanders haven’t perfect at all during overtime in the bubble. But, that luck was bound to change. Eberle buried one on Vasy glove side and forces game 6.

Anders Lee

The Islanders’ captain did not want to leave Edmonton, and his play showed that. Anders Lee gave 110% last night, and the team followed. Anders Lee did the little things correctly, like marking his man, being physical down low, and winning the 1v1 battles. He also blocked a shot from the point after giving his stick to defenseman Scott Mayfield. 99 mph shot right to his knee. Eventually, all his hard work would pay off for him and his team as the Islanders got a 2v1. Lee outskated Sergachev and got a beautiful cross-crease pass to Eberle; the rest is history.

Conclusion

The Islanders are one win away from pushing a game 7. If the Isles force a game 7, well, it’s anyone’s series. The Islanders have all the momentum in the world, and the Lightning have a lot of doubt.