Islanders finally reward ‘best goaltender in the league’ Ilya Sorokin with win


ELMONT, NY — It’s been just over a week since the NHL revealed an All-Star selection from each of the 32 teams. Brock Nelson was the Islanders’ choice, and a good one, in the middle of a career year and tied for the team lead with 15 goals.

But with all due respect to Brock Nelson, the Islanders’ most valuable player in the first half of the season is not Brock Nelson. It’s the man between the posts, Ilya Sorokin, who captain Anders Lee proclaimed after Saturday’s 2-1 win over Montreal at UBS Arena is “the best goalie in the league.”

And while Lee is probably a little biased, he’s probably not wrong either. It’s hard to imagine where the Islanders would be right now without the 27-year-old Russian native, who has suffered bad luck in recent weeks when it comes to his record due to the team’s failure in front of him. plenty of anything offensively too many nights, but didn’t let that affect his game.

Sorokin started for the 11th time in 12 games against the Canadiens as coach Lane Lambert probably realized that without him the Islanders are an average group at best, especially right now with key pieces like Adam Pelech , Kyle Palmieri and Oliver Wahlstrom released.

Although Sorokin was not tested as much against Montreal as he was by other opponents, he still had to be on his game. The Islanders took an early 2-0 lead thanks to the goals from Casey Cizikas at 2:25 and Anthony Beauvillier at 6:03, but that was all they would do against a Montreal team that entered the game with the fourth-worst goals in the league. -against the average (3.79).

“He’s been phenomenal all year, night after night,” Lee said. “He’s calm in there, he’s confident. And he gives us a chance every night. He deserved a W tonight.


Ilya Sorokin. (Thomas Salus / USA Today)

The rest of the team is still battling to score even with a better performance on Saturday (albeit against the last-place Canadians). In fact, in Sorokin’s last 11 starts, the Islanders have only scored 25 goals overall. In eight of 11 games they have scored two goals or less, including a 1-0 shootout loss at Colorado on Dec. 19, Sorokin’s most recent shutout.

So while Sorokin had a .939 save percentage and a 1.81 goals-against average during that span, he still suffered more losses than wins, posting a 5-4 record. -2.

To the Islanders’ credit, they were much better on Saturday than they have been for most of their last six games in which they were just 1-4-1. They dominated the first 10 minutes of the first half and could have had a few more than the two they got in the first quarter.

There was a lull in the second, including a streak in which they took two minor penalties and recorded no shots on net for eight and a half minutes. But even after the Canadians finally got on the board 9:56 into the third on a Nick Suzuki goal, the Islanders kept their composure and had a few better chances to score more by Hudson Fasching with 3:40. to go and Nelson with 2:11 remaining. They outshot Montreal 10-5 in the third period.

While the end result was probably a little closer than they would have liked considering how they came out of the gate, they still deserved to win. They are now 1-1-1 on their five-game homestand of the season, and are also back in second place in the Wild Card.

“I think we did a lot of good things away from the puck,” Cizikas said. “We were quick on the forecheck, we were heavy on the bodies. We took care of the puck where we needed it. We were playing well (in the defensive zone) which allowed us to have chances offensively.

Lambert said: “I really thought all night we tried to generate shots and put shots on net and we created quite a few chances from that perspective. I liked our response when they scored. I thought we were still moving forward. Congratulations to our guys for the win.

The Islanders finished with 38 shots on goal, their highest total since shooting 42 in a 5-1 win over the Penguins on Dec. 27. In their previous six games, they averaged just 23.8 shots per game, the lowest rating in the league over that span.

Earlier Saturday, Ryan Pulock spoke about what the Islanders need to do to generate more shots on goal than they have been lately.

“We have to throw pucks that we can have the ability to forecheck,” he said. “And then when we get the pucks back, we have to find (a) way to get the pucks back to the net. … (In) Some games their goaltenders get to the puck and it’s easier for them to get away. It’s a lot of little things, but I think it’s really just a simple forecheck and using our offense that way.

The Islanders had also let shots pass, according to Lambert.

“When we get our Grade A opportunities, we have to hit the net. It’s as simple as that,” he said before the Canadiens game. “I would say we’ve probably missed the net on 40% of our chances lately. This is partly because we tighten our sticks. They try. Guys know there was a goal drought or whatever. And they try to be too beautiful. But we just have to get back to getting pucks on the net and getting traffic. »

Both of the Islanders’ goals on Saturday came on Cizikas deflecting a Noah Dobson floater, while Beauvillier smashed the net and cleaned up a juicy rebound that was generated by a soft shot into traffic from Scott Mayfield. They will need more of these types of goals in the future if they are ever to succeed.

“When we can get the puck deep and use our forecheck, that’s one of the things we can do really well and create offense from that,” Lee said. “Thanks to that, we were able to get some zone time and get the puck to the net. »

Said Beauvillier: “It comes from having a good forecheck and (defenders) getting the pucks to the net, and crushing us at the net. Two goals like that ended up winning us a game.

The same goes for the performance of their goaltender, who will likely stay in net Monday when the Washington Capitals, one of the teams the Islanders are chasing in the Metropolitan Division, travel to Long Island.

“He stood on his head for us,” Cizikas said, “and played amazing.”

(Top photo by Scott Mayfield and Ilya Sorokin: Thomas Salus/USA Today)


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