There is coy, and then there is this, from Barry Trotz.
“We’ll go into Nashville, obviously one of them will be in net,” the Islanders coach said on Wednesday. “We’ll just play it off of that. The one thing, you’re probably wondering who I’m gonna go with.”
That would be correct.
The Islanders waived Cory Schneider on Monday, a signal that Semyon Varlamov is ready to come off injured reserve after missing the season’s first six games. A week ago, this equation would have been simple: Varlamov, who played well enough last season to earn Vezina Award votes, returning to his spot as the Islanders’ starter in net.
Ilya Sorokin, though, has made it complex.
After giving up 14 goals in his first four starts, Sorokin posted two straight shutouts in the Islanders’ weekend back-to-back at Arizona and Vegas. Against the Knights, the Russian was the driving force behind a 2-0 win, making 42 saves in a game where the Knights dominated the puck.
“He’s been outstanding,” Casey Cizikas said after that game. “He’s won us games and he’s kept us in games. Back-to-back shutouts to finish a road trip, that’s big. You can see him, he’s comfortable in there. He’s confident in there. He’s not giving too many second opportunities up, so he’s standing tall and he’s winning us games.”
So now, there is a question — one Trotz artfully avoided answering Wednesday morning.
“Well it isn’t the same plan [as before the season] because of the fact that through training camp, we had to switch the plan a little bit,” Trotz said, referencing Varlamov’s undisclosed injury.
“I’ll look at it this way: We’re looking at what we’re gonna do for Nashville, we’re looking at Montreal and then we sort of look at the what-ifs.”
That is to say, the Islanders don’t really have a plan beyond the near future. And they’re not saying what the plan is for the near future.
“We probably only go two weeks out now versus the bigger picture,” Trotz said. “Once you get a month or two into it, you add two weeks and as you go deeper into the schedule, you go one week at a time.”
The way Sorokin is playing, it would be hard to keep him off the ice. Trotz considered playing Schneider in the game against Vegas. Sorokin, though, told him he would be good to go and then rewarded the coach with a fantastic performance.
“He said he really hasn’t played back-to-backs since he was playing in minor hockey,” Trotz said. “So it was good. It showed a lot from him.”
With the Islanders playing just twice in the next eight days before another back-to-back, there is no need to rush Varlamov back onto the ice. At the same time, if he is ready — and Trotz said he is fully healthy — seeing him play would help clarify the bigger picture.
“He’s gonna be a little bit rusty anyways if it’s four weeks or whatever it is, or five weeks, it won’t matter,” Trotz said. “So his starting point is whenever we put him in the net.
“… We need both our goalies to be on and they give us a chance to win every night. They’re both very, very good.”