Islanders Weekly: Parise & Sorokin Shine During Win Streak

The New York Islanders head into December in one of the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division. They got there despite a roller-coaster November that included come-from-behind victories, ugly losses, and questionable decision-making from up and down the lineup. The saving grace was their goaltending, led by Ilya Sorokin, and a forward group getting goals from the top nine, most notably elder statesman Zach Parise.

Islanders Parise Adding Value

The Islanders have shown that their forward group can get the job done, even if they can’t start games on time, have proven to be a little unpredictable, and star-forward Mathew Barzal is producing, but primarily assists. Their depth is finally shining through the way general manager Lou Lamoriello hoped it would, with perhaps the best value signing during his tenure being that of Parise, who he drafted for the New Jersey Devils in 2003.

To put his seven goals in 23 games so far this season in perspective, not only did he score 15 goals in 82 games last season, but during his final season with the Minnesota Wild (2020-21), Parise scored seven goals in 45 games. And let’s not forget he’s on the powerplay and penalty kill, too. The 38-year-old forward never takes a night off and has been one of the most consistent forwards for the Islanders since he joined the team last season.

Latest News & Highlights

In addition to Parise, his linemate and center J.G. Pageau is also having a heck of a November, scoring all six goals over the month’s last seven games. This includes a short-handed tally, assisted by none other than Parise, and a team-leading four power-play goals.

“He made a hell of a pass,” Pageau said of Parise’s helper against the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 23 in a 3-0 win. “I just had to put it in. It’s always been fun to play with him. He’s been helping me out as a player and he makes it easy for me.” His contract won’t put him on any value lists, but the face-off extraordinaire and expert penalty killer is living up to his contract so far this season.

Sorokin Islanders’ Saving Grace

Even with value-forward Parise scoring goals for the Islanders and the forward depth coming alive, when all else fails, Sorokin has come to the rescue. As the Islanders have tried to be more aggressive, they’ve heavily relied on their goaltending, which also includes Semyon Varlamov, who is having a great bounce-back season.

Sorokin has helped steal games and keep them in tight ones, with amazing performances being a regular occurrence, including a 50-save shutout against the Oilers.

“It was certainly a tremendous game from him,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said of Sorokin following the game. “He’s focused, he’s dialed in, and he’s quick — and he made some big saves for us.”

As the clear number one, Sorokin has been able to handle the workload without any trouble, even after 50 shots against. “You don’t really think of how many shots,” Sorokin said following the game against the Oilers. “I watched after the game. It’s good for a goalie. It keeps you in shape.”

Varlamov is also taking things in stride, getting the start in one out of three games so far this season. Together, the Islanders’ goaltending tandem is sporting a .934 save percentage (SV%), well above league average, and contributing to the team’s stingy 59 goals against this season, good for fifth in the league.

Islanders Odds & Ends

As Stephen Rosner pointed out for NYI Hockey Now, since back-to-back games allowing five goals – a 5-4 loss against the Nashville Predators on Nov. 17 and a 5-2 loss against the Dallas Stars two nights later on Nov. 19 – the Islanders’ second and third defense pairings have changed, with some great results so far.

“It’s a small sample size, and things can change, but we just felt like we needed a little bit of a spark,” Lambert said of changing the defense pairings. “On the back end, and putting [Alexander] Romanov and [Scott] Mayfield together, they’re bigger bodies, physical guys, long sticks, so they’ve done a good job, and Sebastian [Aho] and Noah [Dobson] can really move the puck.”

Noah Dobson New York Islanders
Noah Dobson, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The predominant thought going into the season was that Lambert would keep the pairings with complementary players, but that didn’t shake out the way we all thought. Putting offensive-minded and quick skaters in Aho and Dobson together and tougher defenders in Mayfield and Romanov has worked out well so far. Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech remain steadfast in their ability to create offense and be solid in their own end, contributing to the team not allowing a third-period goal during their current four-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 6-0, according to Stephen Rosner.

Related: Blue Jackets Can Learn Important Lesson from Islanders

Oliver Wahlstrom has also shown some serious toughness so far this season, most recently in a fight against Tony DeAngelo during the team’s 5-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 26. “I kind of challenged myself to be uncomfortable this summer,” Wahlstrom said after the game. “It’s a good little technique to have. I’m a big guy and sometimes in my game I throw a big hit here and there so you have to expect someone to come after you. I just have to use it to my ability.” For the Islanders, it’s nice to know that, along with Anders Lee, there are players in their top six who aren’t afraid to drop the gloves when called upon.

The Islanders are back at it tonight to close out November against the Philadelphia Flyers, in what should be an exciting rematch despite the teams’ separation in the standings. With teams like the Washington Capitals battling injuries and an up-and-down New York Rangers group, the Islanders need to continue to collect points and create some distance between themselves and those teams in the wild card fight.

Explore everything hockey with THW’s Hockeypedia pages.

The Hockey Writers HockeyPedia 800x120