COVID-19 has caused the Islanders every kind of problem this season other than goalie issues.
Now, that might be the case.
The Islanders had no update Sundy on the status of Semyon Varlamov after he was pulled from his scheduled start in Saturday night’s 5-2 loss in Calgary and placed into COVID-19 protocol.
Though the NHL has ended testing of asymptomatic players — and Jean-Gabriel Pageau said after the loss that Varlamov had seemed fine — a negative result is necessary for travel across the Canada-U.S. border. The Islanders flew to Buffalo on Sunday, where they will conclude a four-game road trip against the Sabres on Tuesday night.
Coach Barry Trotz said after the game that the team was awaiting the results of Varlamov’s second test. If Varlamov tested positive again, he will be quarantined in Canada until he clears protocol.
Which leads to some questions for the struggling Islanders (17-19-6).
First, is Ilya Sorokin at risk of testing positive over the next few days as a close contact? Sorokin made 24 saves playing in his third game in four nights. His border-crossing test was negative.
Next, will any other players subsequently test positive? The Islanders went through COVID-19 outbreaks from mid-November through early January, eventually having nine games postponed and 13 games rescheduled.
Finally, if Varlamov is not available for the next five to 10 days, who becomes Sorokin’s backup, provided Sorokin stays healthy? More simply put, who’s available from the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport capable of playing in the NHL?
Jakub Skarek, a 22-year-old Czech drafted in the third round in 2018, was named the AHL goalie of the month after going 5-0-2 with a 1.98 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage in January. Overall, he is 12-8-4 with a 2.76 GAA and .911 save percentage as the organization’s top goalie prospect.
But Skarek has not played since Jan. 29 and Trotz said after Saturday’s loss he was not sure of Skarek’s status.
Undrafted free agent Ken Appleby, 26, made 35 saves in Bridgeport’s 2-0 loss on Saturday night to Charlotte. He’s 0-3-2 with a 2.18 GAA and a .934 save percentage for Bridgeport and appeared in three games for the Devils in 2017-18. But he has spent the bulk of this season in the lower-tier ECHL.
Cory Schneider, 35, the Devils’ former No. 1 goalie who continues to try and work himself back into the NHL after hip injuries sidetracked his career, is 5-9-2 with a 3.08 GAA and .906 save percentage for Bridgeport.
Regardless of whether Schneider — the odds-on choice — Appleby or Skarek is recalled if Varlamov must miss a few games, Trotz will continue to rely on Sorokin provided he’s available. The Islanders do not play on back-to-back nights again until Feb. 26-27 and Varlamov should be back by then.
But Sorokin, arguably the Islanders’ MVP with a 14-10-5 mark, 2.46 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, has allowed at least three goals in his last three starts and five of his last six.