The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders will be without a couple of key players for Game 1 of their First Round matchup on Sunday afternoon.
[Related: Penguins-Islanders Series Preview]
Let’s start with Malkin. He missed a significant chunk of the 2020-21 season due to a lower-body injury only to return with four games remaining in the regular season. He seemed to be building himself back up to speed and gearing up for the playoffs until he was injured in a center ice collision with Buffalo’s Dylan Cozens in the regular season finale. The Penguins insisted at the time that it was not significant and they were optimistic that he would be ready for the start of the playoffs. That is obviously not going to be the case. At least for Sunday.
Malkin has been skating this week, but coach Mike Sullivan was calling him a game-time decision as recently as Sunday morning.
The Penguins went 15-5-2 during Malkin’s absence between March 16 and May 3 of this season. It is still a big loss for their center depth. Jeff Carter‘s line (which has been great) will now be the second line behind Sidney Crosby.
On the New York side, Varlamov exited the Islanders’ regular season finale against Boston after playing two periods and his status has remained in doubt ever since. With him sidelined the focus now turns to rookie goalie Ilya Sorokin who will be making his postseason debut on Sunday.
Sorokin has been one of the Islanders’ top prospects for years and finally made his long anticipated NHL debut this season. His rookie season has been a success. He enters the postseason with a 13-6-3 record and .918 save percentage in his 22 appearances. He made two appearances against the Penguins during the regular season, shutting them out on February 28 and then giving up four goals on nine shots on March 27 in a 6-3 defeat.
Varlamov has been the better goalie this season, but their crease should still be in capable hands with Sorokin.
Pittsburgh has a goalie situation of its own. Starter Tristan Jarry missed the regular season final due to injury, while regular backup Casey DeSmith is sidelined. Maxime Lagace is the backup for Game 1 on Sunday.