Evgeni Nabokov Shouldering Heavy Load

By Joe Powers

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Entering his third season with the Islanders, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is once again faced with a heavy workload between the pipes.

Nabokov has played superbly to this point in the 2013-14 season, and figures to get the lion’s share of the workload for the duration. In fact, his play this year has more or less mirrored his output since his 2011 arrival in Uniondale – a goals-against average of 2.79, save percentage of .905. Ever the picture of consistency, these are only slightly higher than his career numbers entering his thirteenth NHL season (2.41 GAA, .912 sv%) as well. His 338 wins are good for 18th all time, while his 55 shutouts rank him 19th overall – impressive numbers, to be sure. Nabokov has enjoyed a stellar career backstopping some less-than-stellar squads, and he is undeniably a major cog in the Islander machine.

He’s also thirty eight years old.

At an age where most hockey players are at least starting to think about the end of the road, Nabokov is being called upon to work a schedule that, over the course of the season, will very likely amount to 70+ games. Even assuming he’s up to the task and excels that far without much of a stumble, one must wonder how much will be left in the tank come playoff time.

Of course, some say it’s not the years that count, but the miles – which leads to the rest of the depth chart. Now that the Rick DiPietro era is over on Long Island, the Isles are left with a backup roster that boasts a combined thirty games’ experience. Barring a mid-season trade the next in line is Kevin Poulin, who has posted reasonable numbers over parts of four seasons with the Isles but is prone to streaky play, and at twenty three may be a few years shy of hitting his stride in the NHL. He’s the current backup though, and has been deemed well ahead of the rest of the pack.

Twenty three-year-old Anders Nilsson showed signs of dominance in Bridgeport in 2011-12 before taking a step back last season. This season is young, but his numbers thus far don’t inspire much confidence. Mikko Koskinen has spent much of the past two seasons in Finland, but is currently a restricted free agent. There is little else of note waiting in the wings.

There’s an old adage which suggests a playoff team is only as good as its goaltending. The durability of Nabokov and the continued development of Poulin will play a major role in the success or struggles of the team.