A good rivalry is also backed by a tricky subplot that takes place over the game, or even the season. The mutual enmity between Sean Avery and Martin Brodeur was thrown at Kerosene vs. Devils. The Ovechkin-versus-Lundkvist fight with the Capitol is a hallmark of what appears to be an annual contest. The 24/7 HBO documentary and Winter Classic produced a narrative for an already healthy rivalry with Tension and the Flyers.
For the past two decades, any rivalry between rangers and islanders has been developed by tradition and geography. Now, they will both be in direct competition for one of the playoff spots available in the immediate East Division for 2020-21. Better yet, for the first time in a long time, there is an intriguing rivalry-within-rivalry.
Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin enter the opening night on the Rangers and Islanders Roosters respectively. Both were drafted in 2014 and soon found themselves in a fiery fight to play during the 2014-2015 World Junior Championships. Sorokin started the tournament as Russia’s starter, though Shisterkin left the job early. Sesterkin performed until he was eliminated from the gold medal game and replaced Sorokin.
From there, the two maintained a friendship with Snow, but had a competitive rivalry. Shesterkin will and Sorokin SKA become the starting goalkeepers in the KHL, the two top teams for St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow respectively. Sorokin knocked out Shusterkin to play in the 2016 and 2017 World Championships, while he was eventually defeated by Shurkin on the Russia depth chart in 2018.
Both are largely considered to be two of the world’s top young goaltenders. The six-year competitive rivalry has been across the pond. Now they are both here, ready to assert themselves as the future backstops of their respective NHL franchises. Shesterkin never played in his 13 NHL games against the Islanders. Sorokin has yet to play in the NHL. An Opening Night Mutual Debut (of a type) would be an incredible moment that reaffirms this moot rivalry and serves as a memento to set the tone not only for the season, but possibly for years to come.
Except, the Islanders refused to do their part. Head coach Barry Trotz announced that Semen Varlamov would debut on Thursday.
next day, # Isle Barry Trotz named Simeon Varlamov the Night Starter. He is not providing any specifics on when Ilya Sorokin will see his first action. He needs to bring his goal to “rhythm”, he says. Can be more like playoffs.
– Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) January 12, 2021
The opening night is usually given to a team’s starting goalkeeper, and while Varlamov is Islanders 1A at best, I can see why this privilege might default to him. However, the delegation of that beginning is based on nothing more than a ceremony. Perhaps it would be bad optics if the Canadiens enjoyed the privilege of Carrie Price, an experienced goalkeeper with a reputation and a long stint in Montreal. But Varlamov has been an average goalscorer in his career, having played all 65 games as an islander. There is no existential obligation to give him this beginning.
The game is worth those two points as the other 55 Islanders will play this season, including seven more against the Rangers. Surely, Sorokin will start a lot of them. With both goalkeepers, renewed load management may not influence the decision, and if the Islanders have to put any stock in a player’s small-sample performance against any team, that kind of data also adds to Verlamov’s confidence. Will not support; He posted a .857 save percentage in Ranger’s three losing attempts last season and his career .897 save percentage in 13 starts at his Thursday opponent (via Hockey Reference).
Trots’ primary loyalty is to optimize his team’s chances of winning, both on Thursday and in the long-term, but argues that this particular goal-setting decision is the best.
Face it, the rivalry between the Rangers and the Islanders has become stale. The Dennis Potvin incident is over 40 years old at this point. He has not faced a playoff since 1994. The dual-starting goal between the top Russian goalkeepers among New York rivals is an organic narrative that fell into the league’s lap. This rivalry is a chance to start anew and run on the ground. Islanders are cashing in on the occasion for no particular reason.
These two will eventually face each other, likely this season, even, but it will be a watery affair compared to what it might be Thursday. Meanwhile, both of these New York sides must begin the season to feed the same tired points of hostility.