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Maybe A Vezina Winner?

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
In their 17-year history, numerous San Jose Sharks have won individual National Hockey League awards.

The first was Tony Granato, who won the 1997 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his comeback from brain surgery the previous season. In 2006, Joe Thornton received the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player while Jonathan Cheechoo earned the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for being the League’s top goal scorer.

Sharks players and coaches have also been finalists for postseason awards. Kevin Constantine (1994) and Ron Wilson (2004) were among the final three for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. Two (Mike Ricci, 2000 and Alyn McCauley, 2004) almost won the Frank J. Selke Trophy which recognizes the League’s top defensive forward. And in 2006, Patrick Marleau was a finalist for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy which acknowledges scoring skills and gentlemanly play.

In 2001, Evgeni Nabokov received the Calder Memorial Trophy as the League’s top rookie. Now, seven years later, he could have a shot at the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s premier goaltender.

Despite some stellar seasons from the likes of Arturs Irbe and Mike Vernon, no Sharks goaltender has been a finalist for the Vezina. But none of these netminders experienced a year like the one Nabokov is having in 2007-08.

Nabokov’s netminding abilities have the Sharks sitting third overall in the NHL’s point race. He leads the League in wins with 37 while playing a League-high 64 games. Among goaltenders who’ve played in 40 or more games, Nabokov’s 2.20 goals-against average ranks fourth. He’s also tied for third with six shutouts.

Nabokov’s teammates definitely know who they would vote for if the ballots were in their hands instead of the 30 NHL general managers.

“I’m for him,” center Joe Pavelski said. “He’s carried us when we haven’t been good.”

“He’s up there in wins and we’ve still got 15 games left,” Captain Patrick Marleau said. “If he keeps it up, I don’t see why he wouldn’t be there.”

Newcomer Brian Campbell, who just arrived from the Eastern Conference, compares Nabokov to the defending Vezina Trophy winner, New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur.

“He’s a lot like Brodeur in his style,” Campbell said. “A lot of goalies now are butterfly goalies, but with him, you don’t know what he’s going to do. He’s in your head.”

“He’s a different style and is really athletic,” Pavelski said. “He does everything really well and is so good technically.”

Nabokov plays a combination style that allows him to go down in the butterfly position when necessary, but he’s also adept at staying upright and playing the angles.

Fortunately, Marleau doesn’t have to solve Nabokov in games, but has the difficult task of facing him in practice.

“He’s patient and cuts down the angles,” Marleau said. “He’s taken all the information he’s gotten in the past from (late Sharks Goaltending Coach) Warren (Strelow) and (Vice President and Assistant General Manager) Wayne (Thomas) and used it to his advantage.”

On the odd occasion when Nabokov isn’t in the right spot, he can fall back on some amazing athletic ability.

Goaltenders have to make numerous stops throughout a 60-minute game. At least the Sharks know Nabokov will seldom let his teammates down.

“What you want is for your goalie to make the key save in the game and ‘Nabby’ does that,” Marleau said.

When players know their netminder is going to come up with the big stop, they can focus solely on their jobs, as opposed to worrying about the puck going in the net frequently..

“He’s awesome,” Pavelski said about Nabokov. “He lets us play our system even better. When he shuts the door, we can be more aggressive.”

Nabokov’s “awesome” ability is displayed virtually every night he hits the ice.

“He’s consistent,” said ex-NHL goaltender Thomas, who has assumed Strelow’s duties since he passed away last year. “The consistency makes him as good as anyone in the League. As a coach, you want to know what you have every night. Pretty much every night, he gives you a chance to win.”

Everyone who watches the Sharks consistently knows about Nabokov’s ability to keep the puck out of the net. But there’s one other aspect of his game that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.

“He helps us get the puck out of our own end with his passing,” Thomas said. “He works on exchanges and is part of breakout situations. Some think they can handle the puck well and end up causing a fire drill. He makes good decisions.”

Based on the numbers and everything else, NHL GM’s would be hard pressed not to cast their Vezina Trophy votes for Nabokov.

San Jose will play in Chicago at 5:30 p.m., PST, on Friday. The game will be available on 98.5 KFOX and Fans with the Center Ice package will be able to watch the game as there is no blackout in the Bay Area.

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