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Evgeni Nabokov is the aging veteran starter, carried over from last season when he signed a one year contract extension. He breathes life into the locker room and is one of the most engaging, fun and charismatic individuals I have had the fortune to be around early in this 2013-14 season. But with a cranky fan-base and management raising the bar on expectations for this team, his performance will ultimately be the deciding factor in how he is seen.
Kevin Poulin is the youngster with tons of confidence, trying to prove he belongs in the National Hockey League after three seasons in the American Hockey League and 21 career starts with the big club. Coming off two major knee injuries, could he be part of the tandem to carry this team forward, pairing with Anders Nilsson or Mikko Koskinen upon Nabokov’s almost certain departure next summer?
Let’s take a look at where Eyes On Isles sees these two goaltenders after a month of action.
20 – Evgeni Nabokov : 4-3-3, 2.84, .906
Nabokov had a very uneven month, as did the entire Islanders team, finishing with 4 wins to 3 losses and 3 OT/SO losses. His goals against average higher than the league average and save percentage below. Coming off last season’s playoff elimination to the Pittsburgh Penguins, many did not even want him to return for another season in blue and orange. But he was the best option afforded to Snow once free agency opened up on July 1 and was the first signing announced in the entire league.
There have been games like the 6-1 win over Phoenix, 3-2 win over Edmonton and the 4-3 win in Pittsburgh where Nabokov has looked every bit the stabilizing force in goal and made some dramatic and solid saves to get the Isles two valuable points.
And then there have been disasters floating around like the 4-3 loss to Buffalo, 5-4 loss to Vancouver and 3-2 loss to the Rangers (can’t dive into November for the sake of this piece but it does not get much better) where he has looked slow and unable to manage the incredible responsibility placed on his shoulders.
In fairness to Nabokov, the defense in front of him has been less than stellar and is currently suffering major injuries that limit its effectiveness. Combine this with sloppy turnovers in the neutral zone by just about everyone and lackadaisical back-checking by the forwards, and you have a recipe for disaster soup. It is simply too much to ask the 38 year old Nabokov to keep bailing this team out on wide open shots from the top of the slot area or getting across on unmarked forwards standing right in his personal space.
Grade : C+ , Out of his 10 starts, you can really count on one hand that has three fingers the number of times Nabokov has truly failed his team playing in front of him. His record signifies that the team is not lost and buried when he gets the call from head coach Jack Capuano. But they do have to score more than a team that might have a younger, fresher and more capable goaltender in the crease. And that alone puts more pressure on the offense than it needs to have and in retrospect, leads to even more turnovers as they push to cover up mistakes made. His goals against and save percentage peripherals are not going to get it done in today’s NHL I’m afraid.
60 – Kevin Poulin : 0-2-0, 3.53, .881
38 year old starting goaltender and Poulin gets only 2 starts in 12 October scheduled games. That baffled Islanders fans and media alike as the cry for less work and the need to keep Nabokov fresh sounded good, but was short on practice.
The first start came in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks and to be honest, Poulin was very good. As a rookie, he did have a tendency to overplay some of his angles but in a very hostile environment with his team getting badly outplayed, he gave them a chance to win, dropping a 3-2 decision.
His next start would not be until two weeks later against the Flyers at home and with the team losing 5-2 (one of which an empty net goal), only one of the 4 can be solely placed on Poulin’s mistake. The others were a result of a big, aggressive team crashing the net with abandon and the Islanders defense being unable to properly deal with the threat.
It goes without saying that the Islanders need to find a way to work Poulin into the mix no less than once every three games, no matter the situation. If he truly is part of the future, you have to know what you are dealing with over an 82 game slate with a fair amount of allowing him to showcase his talents. Poulin has size, agility and the attitude to succeed at this level and anything less than 30 starts would be a disservice to him and his development.
Grade : INC, There is no logical, fair way to give Poulin a letter grade for appearing in the two starts he did for the month of October. Especially the initial test in Chicago. He performed admirably and has to make sure he keeps himself very prepared through practices. But as any player will tell you, there is no comparison to game action, regardless of the position you play.
This is sure to delve up some discussion so have at it readers in the comment section below.