Staff Face-Off : Merits Of Tim Thomas vs. Evgeni Nabokov

By Joe Pantorno
2 of 2

Sep 21, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; New York Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov (20) makes a glove save during the first period against the New Jersey Devils at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Islanders Can Win With Nabokov (Dias-Rodrigues)

In his 83 regular season games as a New York Islander, Evgeni Nabokov has 42 W 29 L with a SV% of .910. Good but not spectacular. Strong enough to get the team into the postseason, but not past the first round.

Is Nabokov a better goalie than Thomas? These next few months will most definitely put that question to rest. But the point isn’t whether or not Nabokov’s stats match that of Thomas’s, or because he’s won a Stanley Cup that defers the victory in this debate to Thomas.

The fact of the matter is that the details which support each man’s stats needs to be scrutinized a bit more.

Yes, Tim Thomas was quite the successful goaltender in Boston, but then again, Thomas was afforded an incredibly talented team with which to work, which made his job just a tad bit ‘easier’ than that of Nabokov’s.

If you consider who the Islanders have been during these past 83 regulars season games, and the problems that arose from the Rick DiPietro situation, then Nabokov proves to be the more resilient of the netminders mentioned thus far.

Let’s begin with who Evgeni Nabokov is as an NHL player:

  • His lowest SV% output was in 2005-06, in which he posted a dreadful .885. And truth be told, the San Jose Sharks of the Nabokov era were good, but not close to being cup contenders by any stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, this season can be the only one in which any critic can say he adversely affected his team’s overall success.
  • Since the ’05-’06 season, Nabokov has improved dramatically from that underachieving mark. Consider his SV% four seasons later, in which he posted a strong .922 (44 W and only 16 L) the season that made him a viable trading commodity for San Jose.  And the years leading up to the ’09-’10 season, Nabokov would hover between .914 and .910 respectively throughout. All with a team on the downtick.

The question isn’t why Nabokov hasn’t been able to regain his ’09-’10 composure, but what kind of team he has in front of him while minding net.

When Nabokov arrived in New York for the 2010-11 season, amid some controversy due to his supposed ‘reluctance’ to join the Islanders, Nabokov would start 42 games and finish one game above .500, with a SV% of .914. Considering that he didn’t have full reins of the goaltending job, and the overall ups and downs of the team in general, his age and his displacement from San Jose to New York, Nabokov proved to be have the most mettle.

In his last 24 games of this past truncated season, Evgeni Nabokov posted a .935 SV%, and directly influenced the tide of Islander success. The postseason faux pas would come to overshadow, for many, his brilliance in April.

But what makes for somewhat perplexing analysis is why his supposed poor play allows for other team deficiencies to go unnoticed.

The Islanders played weak on the backcheck, and were stymied in game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins because of their lack of physical play. When the Isles did bring physicality, the team would translate the effort into glorious wins.

But again, who was in front of Nabokov at this juncture? Answer: an incredibly young and inexperienced team against a juggernaut scoring machine.

If you saw just an inkling of the Pens-Sens series, then you’ll know that unless you’re the Bruins, who bring both the physical and the proven veteran talent to the proverbial postseason table, then a team like the Penguins win.

Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas are not, nor were they ever, an answer to the the Islanders goaltending questions. Those responsess can only come from the likes of Kevin Poulin, who needs time in the NHL in order to improve.  For that to happen, the Islander team must worry about their own duties on each shift.

The Islanders and their fans must remember that if every player worries about their own game, then things can and will take care of themselves, in as much as the talent on the team can muster.

Thomas’s postseason success can never translate to any other team he joins, and Luongo’s supposed/expected success on the island  is nothing more than a product of fan projection.

Neither man can guarantee success more than Nabokov can.


You decide, readers: