NHL on NBCSN: Islanders need Varlamov to get back on track

Joey Alfieri
NBC Sports

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Semyon Varlamov experiment got off to a relatively good start this year. After the Islanders handed him a four-year, $20 million deal in the summer, they managed to get a lot of him in the first half of the season. Things have cooled off considerably though.

From October through the end of December, the Islanders were playing their signature stingy brand of hockey. Varlamov was playing well, the Islanders were winning games and everything was going well. If there were any doubts about their ability to make the playoffs, again, they were being put to bed.

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Varlamov had a 14-3-3 record with a 2.43 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage through Dec. 31. Everything is good, right? Sort of.

The new year hasn’t been as kind to the veteran netminder.

Varlamov has gone 2-6-1 since the start of the new year. For a good chunk of this season, head coach Barry Trotz had decided to split starts between his two goalies. Varlamov and Thomas Greiss were rotating in the Isles crease at times. The Russian also went through long stretches where he was the starting netminder.

Lately, that hasn’t been the case. Before starting two of the last three contests, Varlamov was on the bench for three consecutive games, and it’s easy to see why. He has four regulation losses in his last five outings and he has one win in his last six games.

[NHL on NBCSN: Ovechkin’s chase for 700th goal continues Monday at 7 p.m. ET]

In fairness to him, he had a stronger showing in Saturday’s loss to Tampa Bay, but they need him to build on that performance.

According to the splitting schedule, Greiss would be between the pipes tonight against Washington. Whether or not that ends up happing is irrelevant because the Isles need points in the standings. Heading into tonight’s game against their division rival, they’re currently in the first Wild Card spot in the East. They do have two games in hand on the Hurricanes and Flyers, but both teams are just one point behind them.

Tonight and tomorrow’s clashes against the Capitals and Flyers are the first of three back-to-back games remaining on the schedule, but they’re pretty much playing a game every other day. Their schedule is going to be hectic. So splitting games might be the wisest decision, but they’ll have to settle on a goalie heading into the playoffs (if they make it there).

Rolling with Greiss isn’t a huge issue, but it would be silly to have to leave your $20-million goalie on the bench if you make the playoffs.

There’s no other way to spin it, Trotz and his team need Varlamov to get back to playing like he did in the first half of the season or it might be a short playoff run or no playoff run at all. Of course, the team in front of the goalies can be tighter and that would help them a lot, too.

The Islanders have been one of the biggest surprises in the NHL since the start of last season. Can they keep that going or will they continue to fade? Stay tuned.

Joe Beninati will handle play-by-play duties alongside analysts Craig Laughlin and Alan May at Capital One Arena in Washington D.C. Kathryn Tappen will host studio coverage with Anson Carter and Ben Lovejoy.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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