The Islanders’ success in the upcoming shortened season will hinge largely on the play of their goaltenders. While 10-year veteran Rick DiPietro has been skating with teammates at Iceworks since Monday, a second piece of the team’s goaltending puzzle joined the group Wednesday.
Evgeni Nabokov took part in an informal on and off-ice session for his first practice in New York since April. The 37-year-old has been in California since last season’s end, working out and skating regularly, trying to stay ready for the start of the NHL season.
“It’s been tough,” Nabokov said. “You prepare for the season the way you always do – you work out in June, July and August to get ready. And then you hit September, October and November, and then you start wondering how much you can work out without playing in any games. So I mixed up my routine. One week I would do more on the ice and another week I would spend more time in the gym. Another week I would do both. So I tried to mix things up to make sure I didn’t get too bored with that.”
The Kamenogorsk, KAZ native planned all along to stay in the US with his wife and two kids during the work stoppage as opposed to playing in Europe. During the 2004-05 season, Nabokov played in Russia for Magnitogorsk Metallurg, the same team that NHL stars Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar dressed for during the most recent lockout.
“I knew the gameplan,” Nabokov said. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to go overseas unless the entire season was canceled. I called my agent earlier this month and started talking about going overseas, but fortunately, we got the good news last weekend that we would start up.”
Throughout the whole process, the 11-year NHL veteran stayed ready to go at a moment’s notice. Just two days after the news broke Sunday that an agreement had been reached between the NHL and NHLPA on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Nabokov was back in New York. The netminder was the first player to arrive at Iceworks Wednesday morning.
“I told my wife, ‘When things happen, they’re going to happen quick. It’s not going to take a lot of time between an agreement and getting ready to come to Training Camp,’” Nabokov said. “I was excited to get back out there today because we really haven’t gotten to do this in quite a while. It was nice to get out on the ice and get a little work in.”
While the regular season schedule is not yet in place, it is widely speculated that it will be more compact than usual. Teams will likely see more games played on back-to-back nights, and player conditioning will be paramount. Nabokov prefers not to overthink things. He knows that at the end of the day, his job on the ice is the same as it has always been.
“My mentality is not going to change,” Nabokov said. “It’s the same thing as always - you come into Training Camp and you start the season. It’s our responsibility to get ready physically. Getting into game shape will happen in January just as it would in October. I’m not changing anything. I’ll prepare for the game the way I always have and hope to go out every night and give the team a chance to win.”
Also skating for the first time during Wednesday’s on-ice session were defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who played in the Czech Republic during the NHL’s hiatus, and forward Frans Nielsen, who was in Finland. They joined Matt Moulson, Matt Martin, Marty Reasoner, Eric Boulton, Matt Carkner, Kyle Okposo, Rick DiPietro and free agent Radek Martinek. The group has increased in size every day as players trickle back to Long Island this week in anticipation of Training Camp.