Semyon Varlamov’s red-hot Islanders rise isn’t changing Ilya Sorokin’s franchise status

If it takes one to know one, then who other than Patrick Roy would you have choosing the Islanders goaltender for Tuesday’s critical match against the Rangers on the Island?

Then again, Martin Brodeur did have a seat in the New Jersey executive suite this season, through which denial was the operative word in the failure to address the tire fire in net until the response was too late, so perhaps the whole premise is suspect.

Seriously, folks, would the Islanders coach going with Semyon Varlamov rather than Ilya Sorokin equate to Emile Francis selecting Gilles Villemure rather than Eddie Giacomin to croon, “New York, New York?” back in the day?

Weren’t Sorokin and lifelong bud Igor Shesterkin meant to duel 178 paces apart for generations the way Steve Baker and Roland Melanson once did for their respective sides?

This is not meant to be a second-guess. Varlamov turned in a career year for the Avalanche in 2014-15 when Roy was in his first season behind the Colorado (and an NHL) bench. Of course, that was nine years ago

But it was within the past two months that Sorokin yielded five goals on 31 shots to the Rangers in a 5-2 defeat at the Garden on March 17 after surrendering six goals on 38 shots on the outdoor pond on MetLife in the 6-5 overtime defeat Feb. 18.

Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) looks on during the second period against the Chicago Blackhawks. Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

And though Sorokin had won his past two starts against ne’er-do-wells Chicago and Columbus, those victories followed a six-game losing streak. Over his past eight starts, Sorokin had gone 2-6 with a 3.06 GAA and .892 save percentage. Varlamov — coming off a 41-save, 2-0 shutout victory over Nashville on Saturday — had gone 5-1-1 with a .930 save percentage and a 2.27 GAA since the trade deadline.

Still, though, Varlamov was not the club’s first franchise goaltender since … well, come to think of it, probably since Billy Smith, only the thing is that he Dynastic netminder was never truly thought of in those terms when he shared the net with, first, Chico Resch, then, Melanson.

Semyon Varlamov #40 of the New York Islanders makes a save against the Florida Panthers. Robert Sabo for NY Post

Smith was perceived as the perhaps the greatest money goaltender of his era. He swept into the Hockey Hall of Fame off his postseason credentials after earning the No. 1 job once and for all in the 1980 preliminary round series against the Kings, after Resch had allowed six goals in a Game 2 defeat. This was the moment when Chico no longer was “the man.”

Sorokin was that designated franchise goaltender. He was a finalist for the Vezina last season, a year after Shesterkin had won it. But just as Shesterkin had bouts of inconsistencies the past two seasons, Sorokin has been less than his alleged immortal self. The numbers weren’t quite as good, and the eye test had not been returning glorious results.

This is not certainly not a permanent turn of events, certainly not so with the 28-year-old Sorokin about to enter the first season of the eight-year, $66 million extension (annual $8.25M cap hit) next season. By the way, that will be a number Shesterkin no doubt will attempt to surpass when the Blueshirts franchise goaltender is eligible to begin talking extension on July 1 for a contract that is set to expire into prospective unrestricted free agency after 2024-25.

Shesterkin, who has been at or close to top form since the All-Star break, is the latest in the lineage of Rangers franchise goaltenders that was spawned by Giacomin with his breakout sophomore 1966-67 season. Giacomin begat Mike Richter who begat Henrik Lundqvist who begat Shesterkin — with a couple of gaps in the middle, one of which was filled admirably by John Davidson.

Islanders new head coach Patrick Roy behind the bench. Robert Sabo for NY Post

You could make the case Davidson’s work in the 1979 Battle of New York — in which the 91-point Ooh La-La Rangers stunned the first-overall, 116-point Islanders in a six-game semifinal series that finished on the Front Page, “VICTORY!” — represents the seminal goaltending performance in the history of the rivalry.

J.D. towering over his teammates as they greeted and celebrated with him at his crease is the image of the series. It was a franchise moment turned in by a goaltender who was never quite of franchise caliber … except for a few weeks of the spring of 1979.

A long time later and on the other side of the tracks, the Islanders and Roy were hopeful that Varlamov might provide the same for his team.

Ilya Sorokin #30 and Semyon Varlamov #40 of the New York Islanders celebrate a win against the Nashville Predators. Getty Images

P.S.: Do you know who started in net for the decisive Game 3 of the 1975 first round at the Garden.

Hint: It was not Giacomin.


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