Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who was scratched in Game 1 against the Penguins with a lower-body injury, skated with the extras during an optional practice on Monday in Pittsburgh.
After maintaining that Varlamov would be ready to go by the series opener despite his worrisome exit from the regular-season finale, the coaching staff wanted to be cautious and opted to go with rookie netminder Ilya Sorokin on Sunday.
Head coach Barry Trotz said they will decide who will be the starter for Game 2 of the series on Tuesday when there’s more clarity on Varlamov’s status.
“We’ll see where Varly is in terms of health, he’s very close,” Trotz said Monday. “I trust both of our goalies. That’s the great thing about having Ilya, we knew that that process would be slower, just the transition from coming over from the KHL. But at the same time, if you remember back, his first start was by surprise and it didn’t go well for us as a team. I don’t know if it set him back, but it got us taking a very cautious approach going forward with him, know that his ability is tremendous.
“The thought process is pretty simple, whoever we put in net, we feel comfortable with. We don’t make any excuses of, ‘This guy is in, so we’re not going to be as good.’ We feel that we put our goaltenders in there, we’re going to be equally as good every night.”
Cory Schneider, who backed up Sorokin on Sunday, also skated with the extras, which included Travis Zajac, Michael Dal Colle, Ross Johnston, Thomas Hickey and Braydon Coburn.
The Islanders and Penguins are facing each other in the playoffs for the third time in the last nine seasons.
The 2019 first-round series was a memorable one as the Isles swept Pittsburgh in four games. In 2013, the Islanders lost in the conference quarterfinals, four games to two.
There are six players still on the roster from 2013, including Hickey, who played in five regular-season games this year, and captain Anders Lee (out for the season). According to Casey Cizikas, who has been with the Isles since 2011-12, the team has drawn a lot from their postseason experiences — particularly from that 2013 series against the Penguins.
“We were a lot younger back then,” Cizikas said. “The emotions that go through a series, that go through a game, you learn how to handle that better. It’s a roller coaster and you just got to keep yourself at an even keel and just keep going out there and playing. It doesn’t matter what happens, it doesn’t matter if they score, you got to keep pushing for it, you don’t get down.
“You just keep pushing and I think that’s the one thing that we’ve learned, or myself, that I’ve learned over the years.”
Anthony Beauvillier’s third-period assist in Game 1, on Brock Nelson’s 3-2 score, extended his point streak to eight games.
The left winger recorded points in the last seven games of the regular season, five goals and three assists.