Barry Trotz has tended to split playing time between his goaltenders in the past, and despite the emergence of the highly anticipated goaltending prodigy Ilya Sorokin, the Islanders coach appears to have the same philosophy about deploying his netminders this season.
“I think it’s going to be schedule-based,” he said on a Zoom call Sunday, a day before the team’s first on-ice sessions. “The neat thing about being a New York Islander is the travel is very minimal. The great thing about having minimal travel is that we’re probably playing the same teams a lot, like we’re playing the Rangers right off the bat twice, probably not going anywhere. You can go more back-to-back with those guys with a day in between.”
After acknowledging that he has more history with Semyon Varlamov, who is in his second season on Long Island, Trotz said he also has a lot of trust in Sorokin after he spent time with the team during last season’s playoffs in the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles.
“I think it was the best thing for him and best thing for me, too,” said Trotz, who added that Sorokin’s English is now better than his own.
Between the realigned divisions to minimize travel and the condensed schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Trotz said he feels that he has more flexibility with his goaltenders. Not having to factor in travel fatigue and such will allow Trotz to put more strategy into who he starts in net.
“Obviously, it all depends on your goaltending situation. With the first year, we split pretty well down the middle, and then we ran with Robin [Lehner] for a bit, and then we ran with [Thomas Greiss] for a bit, then they split,” he said. “I think it’s schedule-based and performance-based, but this schedule is condensed. It allows you to do a lot of things because there’s not a lot of travel.
“As much as we want to say the games take a lot out of you, which they do, the travel takes a big piece out of you, especially with the goaltenders, and I think with some of the non-travel you’re going to have this year, you can use your goaltenders a little bit more.”
Varlamov said he and Sorokin have been training together during the team’s informal workouts the past few months, adding that he believes the 25-year-old is looking to establish himself in the NHL after a successful career in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
Considering he made the jump from the KHL to the NHL during the 2012-13 NHL lockout, Varlamov was asked what he believes will be the biggest adjustment for Sorokin heading into his rookie season.
“I think the biggest difference between these two leagues, the KHL and NHL, there’s definitely more traffic in front of the net for NHL goalies. I can tell you that,” he said. “It’s really hard to find the puck in this league. The players do such a good job to put traffic in front of the net, so I think the new goalies who come into this league, they have to learn how to play through the traffic in the National Hockey League, and the faster you learn, the easier it’ll be for you to play.”
The Islanders are slated for their first training camp in six seasons without Johnny Boychuk, as the veteran defenseman was forced to cut his career short due to an eye injury he sustained last season.
The team wasn’t able to confirm his official status — whether he’s retired or being placed on long-term injured reserve for cap purposes — but Boychuk still has been around the team.
“Those are shoes that I don’t think anybody is going to fill,” Anders Lee said Thursday. “Johnny is a special person and a special guy in our locker room. Anytime you have a cornerstone like him kind of move on a little bit, you’re always going to miss him no matter what. But those things happen, unfortunately, and Johnny is going to be around. None of that changes.“He’s not going to be on the ice obviously. But he’s going to be with us, he’s with us every day, we all get to see him. As much as we’re going to miss him on the ice, thankfully, we’re not going to miss him in the room.”