Eyes on Isles Spotlight – Evgeni Nabokov – plus recap from Sabres Islanders game


** NOTE – this Nabokov piece was written before the game against the Sabres –> CONGRATULATIONS TO EVGENI NABOKOV FOR GETTING HIS 300th CAREER VICTORY TONIGHT **


Michael Grabner, minutes after hitting the post, scored the game winner with just under four minutes remaining in the game, giving the Islanders a 3-2 lead.  Grabner would score his 13th goal, and second in 2 minutes, to propel the home team to a 4-2 victory over Buffalo.

Just before Grabner’s second goal, Mark Streit loosened the post, causing a Delay of Game penalty, which resulted in a penalty shot.  Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff selected Tomas Vanek to take the shot.  Vanek struck the left post.

“I’d like to say that the only area open was my post,” Evgeni Nabokov joked with reporters after the game. 

Nabokov, despite making a major gaffe late in the second period, giving Buffalo the second goal of the game, made 23 saves for the 7th victory of the season, and the 300th of his NHL career.  The Islanders had 40 shots on net.

John Tavares had two assists, and Matt Moulson scored his team leading 21st goal of the season.  Kyle Okposo notched his 11th of the season as well.

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To any sports fan, there is always a bit of excitement when a player is approaching a career milestone.  The media report about it, and the interest in a particular player will grow as the numbers get closer to that achievement.  For Evgeni Nabokov, the 300 win mark, although important, is just another game.

“There is no pressure at all”, said Nabokov after practice today. “If there were 5 games left, probably yes, but I am not planning to retire or anything like that; so it is just another number to me.”

For the 36 year-old netminder, he will be the 26th goalie to reach that 300 win plateau, if he beats the Buffalo Sabres tomorrow night at the Nassau Coliseum.  On Thursday night, despite playing a solid game against a strong opponent in the Philadelphia Flyers, the Isles came up short in a 3-2 loss.  The second goal allowed was a situation that was accentuated by a little misplaying of the puck, basically two whiffs, which allowed Flyers forward Wayne Simonds to come in and sneak the puck between Nabokov and the post, to give the visitors at that time, a 2-0 lead.

“The puck was coming in slow, and I was waiting and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do”, Nabokov told the media after the game.

The thought that came through to me, as I was listening to the questioning, is the relaxed state that he brings to the team.  In many cases, the goaltender can be the most interesting and quirkiest person in the locker room.

Not the easy going Nabokov.

His English is nearly perfect; in fact almost scholarly-like.  One of the few Russian players (actually, born in Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan) that if you listened to him with your eyes closed that he comes from Eastern Europe.  I am sure that his relaxed outlook, and calm demeanor, is a factor that works with the young defense.

“I have been on much older teams in the past (San Jose), and I have not been with such a young team before”, he said.

Nabakov spent 10 years in San Jose, winning the Calder Trophy given to the Rookie of the year in 2001.  During those years, he accrued 293 victories, with 46 in the 2007-08 season and 44 in 2009-10.  He started the 2010-11 campaign with St. Petersburg SKA in the KHL.  After 22 games in Russia, he wanted to come back to the NHL.  The Detroit Red Wings were willing to take him on.  However, in order to put on the Wing jersey, he would have to pass waivers.  GM Garth Snow put a claim into Nabokov, taking away his wish.

Nabokov would not report to the Islanders, and he was then suspended for the remainder of the season.  Snow then requested that the contract be deferred to next season, so that if Nabokov wanted to play in the NHL, he had to play on Long Island.  Something that he and his family have enjoyed.

“Too bad that we have not had any snow to speak of”, Nabokov commented. “I promised my kids that we would have snow at Christmas time, and the kids were mad at me and called me a liar a few times.”

For Nabokov, although he has been with some strong San Jose Shark teams that played deep into the playoffs, his ultimate goal is still to win the Stanley Cup.  When asked about what he would want to be remembered for, he replied, “If I did not win a Stanley Cup, that I was a consistent goaltender who always gave his best.”

The future is still bright for Evgeni Nabokov, and whether it is here, or with another NHL team, he will certainly inch closer to the top goaltenders of all time.  Nabokov feels that he wants to stay in the game once his career is over.  He has said throughout his career that he owes a great deal to Warren Strelow, his former goaltending coach in San Jose.  Perhaps, he may be able to give to a young up and coming goaltender the advice and coaching that he got from Strelow.

The other goaltenders wearing Islander colors can learn a lot from the consistency and stability that number 20 shows both on and off the ice.  Getting 300 may be another game to Nabokov, but it will be a game that will always be remembered as something more.