Photo: James Carey Lauder/USA Today Sports
There is nothing like fan reaction after wins and losses. The overreaction makes it the beauty of all this. A fan can feel like he or she is on a high when his or her favorite team wins. A fan can be in the dumps after a loss, and then he or she plays the game of finger of blame for the loss.
Islanders fans felt good about their team after a 4-3 overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon to start the first round of the playoffs. But then the Islanders took a 2-1 Game 2 loss to the Penguins on Tuesday night, and fans questioned Islanders head coach Barry Trotz for starting Semyon Varlamov instead of Ilya Sorokin, who started Game 1 because Varlamov hasn’t healed from a lower-body injury.
Fans thought Trotz ruined the momentum by changing goaltenders after a win. They thought he outsmarted himself by fixing something when it’s not broke. To be fair to the fans, it was mild criticism, but nevertheless, it was a topic on Twitter and message boards during and after the game.
Let this be a reminder to Trotz: You are only as good as your last game as coach.
Talk about an overreaction.
I was surprised Trotz started Varlamov. I figured he would play Sorokin until he would lose a playoff game. I wasn’t outraged about the move, and this goaltending decision was not why the Islanders lost this game.
Varlamov earned the right to start Game 2 for what he has done as the Islanders goaltender this season and last season. He played excellent all season long. He shouldn’t have to wait until Sorokin fell apart. As good as the kid played on Sunday in overtime, it’s not like he was Martin Brodeur out there, so it’s hard to get worked up about this decision.
I won’t question a future Hall of Fame head coach that won 877 games with a Stanley Cup to show for it. Trotz knows what he is doing. He has a feel for the game that makes him a great coach. He knows what makes his players tick as any NHL head coach I saw. He has a method to his madness when he makes the lines and plays certain players on a given night.
There are certain coaches that earned the benefit of the doubt in this town. It’s Trotz and Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Trotz has a plan on how to use his goaltenders, and I trust him in getting it right. He makes decisions based on intuition, not on emotion. He has a plan in place when it comes to using Varlamov and Sorokin.
He certainly was going to not start Varlamov just because of superstition nonsense. Now that would be foolish.
For the Islanders to achieve their goal of winning the Stanley Cup, they need Varlamov. He gives them a better chance to win than Sorokin. He is not going to be productive just by watching on the bench.
There was no question he was rusty after not playing in Game 1. He missed a week. It should have been expected. This should not scare Trotz for playing him. The sooner he played, the better off he and the Islanders would be.
Varlamov actually played well. He faced a lot of rubber in the third period in keeping this game at 2-1. He finished the game with 45 saves. It should erase concerns about him moving forward, and it should be good enough for him to start Game 3 Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders lost because the defense turned the puck over a couple of times. Ryan Pulock turned the puck over to Bryan Rust, who scored the first goal of the game in the first period. Also, Pulock was a step behind in chasing Jeff Carter, who scored the second goal.
They also lost because their power play failed to execute a 6-on-4 with time ticking until regulation that could have tied the game at 2 in the third period. They registered one shot in that power play by Oliver Wahlstrom, and when the Penguins cleared the puck to the other end, you knew this would be hopeless.
Varlamov was the least of the Islanders’ problems on Tuesday night.
Face it, There was no way the Penguins were going down two to nothing in their home ice. They were going to play their best desperate hockey, and they did that by getting off to a great start by forechecking and shooting in the first and they tightened it up defensively in the third period. It wouldn’t have mattered who was starting in the net for the Islanders on that night.
I would worry more about Mat Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier not doing much than Varlamov’s performance in Game 2.