Crease Of Dreams : Who Backs Up Nabokov?


Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The talk of the New York Islanders this off-season always seems to revolve around one topic over and over again….who is the backup goaltender?

After Garth Snow re-signed starter Evgeni Nabokov to a one year contract the very first minute that free agency opened, almost everyone automatically assumed Kevin Poulin was in line for the backup role and an expanded one at that.

Nabokov clearly tired towards the end of the regular season and into the playoffs and the importance on head coach Jack Capuano finding someone responsible enough to grab 20-25 starts during the course of the upcoming 82 game regular season is paramount to the team’s success.

But Poulin is not the only choice the coaching staff has after all.

Mike Howlin, a devoted reader of the site, posed this question to me and two others on Twitter the other day.

To be completely honest, I had not given this much credence all summer long and had 6’5″ Swedish netminder Anders Nilsson in my rear view mirror; only this time objects were ‘not as close as they appear to be.’

Coming into what promises to be the most competitive training camp in recent memory for the Islanders, Capuano will give each goaltender plenty of opportunities in practice and exhibition games to win the backup role, with the other being sent to Bridgeport to continue their development with the Sound Tigers.

How do these two stack up statistically as we turn the page from summer boredom to hockey heaven? (stats courtesy of

Kevin Poulin : 6’2, 210 lbs – 23 years old

Anders Nilsson : 6’5″, 220 lbs – 23 years old

In looking at the above numbers, it would seem to signify that Nilsson has some catching up to do in professional experience comparative to Poulin, playing only 46 games at the American Hockey League level and 4 at the National Hockey League level. Experience is always a key factor when a goaltender is making the adjustment to the pro game’s speed and shot heavy snipers.

What could hurt Poulin, however, in his bid for the Islanders backup job behind Nabokov is that he has not exactly shined at any level he has played. Very pedestrian numbers have plagued him ever since his start in the Quebec major junior hockey league. His career marks in that system of 3.14 and .901 carried over to Bridgeport where he was 2.84 and .916. His limited experience on the big club has not produced better results at 2.76 and .908.

Does that mean that he cannot succeed and be the goaltender that the Islanders and their fans expect him to be? Of course not. His play in relief of Nabokov in last year’s playoffs and spots start down the stretch against Winnipeg and in Philadelphia were both very good and he did not at all look out-of-place.

Keep in mind that both these men are coming off maladies as well that could have definitely affected their numbers in a negative way.  In 2011, Poulin hurt his knee in warmups and ended up having replacement surgery for a dislocated kneecap. Nilsson likewise suffered from an unknown illness that caused him serious fatigue, which was later diagnosed as a lack of B12 vitamin.

Both these young stars expect to come into training camp with something to prove and show the coaching staff which one deserves to break with the club on October 4 in Newark, NJ. It will be interesting to witness that’s for sure and we will have live reports from training camp on how we see the battle progressing.

Now it’s your turn…..which goaltender do you project to win the competition to back up Nabokov in the Islanders crease? Let your voice be heard below and as always, thanks for reading Eyes On Isles.

-Andy (@tazman19)