Hockey fans, we’re almost there. We’re just a little more than a month (37 days, to be exact) from watching our Islanders take the ice on Opening Night. Players are preparing for the upcoming season as the days of summer continue dwindling.
Now, if there’s one player Islanders fans may (or may not) be thrilled to see preparing for a season in an Islanders uniform, it’s Evgeni Nabokov. Many fans clamored this past summer for a new goaltender during the Free Agency period, as fans had a bitter taste in their mouth after watching Nabokov struggle mightily in the first round of the postseason against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Popular belief within Isles country was that Nabokov was too tired and too old to continue to play efficiently, and that the playoffs were a prime example of this. Some fans feel that he doesn’t have the strength to play entire season and helping this team to the playoffs while doing so.
Avoid the negativity and simply trust in Nabokov. He’s a good goaltender, and Garth Snow wouldn’t have given him a contract if he didn’t feel the same way. Question Nabokov’s postseason play all you want, but it really doesn’t prove anything negative against him. The Penguins were going to do scoring in a series no matter who they’d play. Case in point, Pittsburgh torched Ottawa Senators Goalie Craig Anderson as well, and he led the NHL with a .941 Save Percentage.
In the Pittsburgh-Ottawa series, Anderson posted a dreadful .884 percentage; not what you would expect from a League Leader. The Penguins are an offensive super power, and have proven that they can score a multitude of goals on even the best goaltenders in the league.
And let’s not forget about the Islanders’ defense during the playoffs. It wasn’t great, and the Penguins exploited many of the Islanders weakness. The Penguins scored multiple goals while on an odd man rushes, and those scenarios left Nabokov powerless and vulnerable to easy goals.(See Chris Kunitz’s OT goal in Game 3). Nabokov may not have been great in the postseason, it’s really no secret that he struggled, but blaming the entire series loss on him is a gross exaggeration.
Now let’s set last year’s postseason aside for now. Nabokov should be a vital part of this team going into next season. Being the veteran goaltender that he is, he will serve as an excellent a mentor to back up Kevin Poulin this season. Nabokov can’t play as often as he did last year. He can handle 60-65 games at the most, and coach Jack Capuano and the rest of the team will need to put some faith in Kevin Poulin in order to make this upcoming season a success.
Kevin Poulin will need to play about 20 games this season, and being an under-experienced player, he’ll need a mentor. Nabokov is the perfect man for that job, and he will definitely help the young Poulin solidify his game. We may not see it during his first few appearances, but there should be visible improvement in Poulin’s game by the end of the season, and we’ll have Evgeni Nabokov to thank for that.
And let’s not just discount Nabokov’s goaltending ability. Last season, he missed just four games in the Islanders season. He posted solid numbers despite having a sub-par defense in front of him. The Islanders had to put their faith into Goaltender Nabokov, and he certainly came through. Nabokov won 23 games last season, just one win behind the three league leaders. He propelled the Islanders to their first playoff birth in six seasons, and that alone is deserving of praise and recognition. Taking a team predicted to be a competitor for the first overall pick and push them all the way into the postseason is quite an achievement.
Now let’s not just remember the bad about Evgeni Nabokov. He’s vilified for just six games, while he was outstanding for the other fourty-four he played in. I’m a believer in Evgeni Nabokov, and fully expect him to be our starter in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Remeber Isles fans, In Nabokov We Trust.