Stability in the crease is as important, if not more, than any other position on the ice in today’s NHL. The Sharks fortunately have the position covered with Evgeni Nabokov.
It was only last year when there was external debate about who should be the Sharks No. 1 netminder. While Team Teal had a good decision whoever they kept between Nabokov and Vesa Toskala, the Sharks position of keeping Nabokov as their No. 1 man has been more than justified.
The Russian Olympian has quietly moved the Sharks up to second overall in the NHL in goals-against average with an outstanding 2.06. The current number is lower than Nabokov’s career best 2.19 GAA back in 2001-02 when he won the NHL’s Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year.
2007-08 may or may not be Nabokov’s best NHL campaign when all is said and done, but it’s still too early to tell. Plus in 2001-02, Nabokov faced the second most shots ever faced by a Sharks netminder. This year’s Sharks have the second lowest shots against in the league.
“It’s hard to say because we’re not giving up 28 shots against,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. “Nabby’s played really well.”
A complete season at this rate would definitely rank with Nabokov’s best, but he also knows it is just a quarter of the way through the campaign.
“We still haven’t played enough games,” said Nabokov. “I never like to look at individual statistics during the season. I’ve had stretches like this for 20 games.”
So what makes Nabokov successful? While he may be strong in every category, it is his ability to do everything well that stands out. There is one item that does stick out a bit above the others. Nabokov’s intelligence and fundamentals makes him one of the NHL’s best.
“Nabby is just very sound with his angles,” said teammate Jeremy Roenick. “He is very smart and that can be better than being really agile or athletic.”
Nabokov is not afraid to direct traffic either as he usually has the best viewpoint as to what is bearing down on the defense.
“He’s very vocal,” said defenseman Craig Rivet. “He’s constantly yelling at us to stand up and block shots. I’ve had some very quiet and some very loud goaltenders and I would much prefer a goaltender who is communicating with you.”
“He knows what he wants the D to do,” said Roenick. “It’s the sign of a good goalie.”
Having a vocal netminder can be difficult on younger blueliners.
“Now more guys like it,” said Nabokov. “When they’re in their first year, they’re not used to me.”
Nabokov is also very adept at moving the puck. Fans should not forget he was the first netminder in NHL history to score an empty net power play goal (back in 2001-02).
“A lot (of his puck handling skills) has to do with his ability to move it,” said Rivet. “He doesn’t get himself in trouble. He knows what he can do and he’s not afraid to move it.”
“It’s huge when a goaltender can help relieve the pressure,” said Roenick. “A lot of D would pay a lot of money for that.”
Roenick has had to view Nabokov from the opposite vantage point and he is even more impressed with him as a teammate.
“He’s better than I thought when I played against him,” said Roenick, who faced Nabokov while skating for Phoenix, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
If San Jose was to bring home the William Jennings Trophy for the best team goals-against-average, it would be presented to Nabokov (and another Sharks goalie who played in at least 10 games), but it would be a team award.
“You can’t have just a good goalie,” said Wilson. “It’s a team award. We’re second in shots against in the League and that’s an indicator the team is doing things right.”
When Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff did not start for Calgary this weekend, Nabokov was left as the sole NHL netminder to start every contest. He is currently at 22 straight for the year.
“Unless he shows signs of fatigue (he’ll keep playing),” said Wilson. “There may have been one game here or there that he was not as sharp as the others, but it has nothing to do with being tired.
“It’s clear who No. 1 is and right now we are in the winning business.”
Wilson noted why rookie Dimitri Patzold hasn’t started and didn’t rule out a start sometime soon. Patzold just returned to San Jose after a conditioning stint with Worcester in the American Hockey League.
“I don’t know if it was fair to put Patzold in when we were winning and he hadn’t played in a long time,” said Wilson. “He went down and played well. He showed he’s ready.”
As for Nabokov, he says who plays is in the hands of his coach.
“I feel good physically and mentally,” said Nabokov. “It’s not like I face 45 shots every night. I’m not even thinking about how many games I’ve played.”
While at some point, he will get a night off, Arturs Irbe’s single season Sharks mark of 74 games played is in sight.
“My first two years, I played 66 games and felt fine,” said Nabokov. “It feels good to play that much. It is more fun.”
It’s a far cry from splitting games last season with Toskala. Now when Nabokov practices, he knows the payoff will be immediate in a game.
“You have a purpose to practice,” said Nabokov. “Now I take one or two drills and I’m off.”
Nabokov is hoping the Sharks can improve in one statistical category as the season continues.
“The wins are still what were looking for,” said Nabokov. “We have to find a way. That is what I’m looking for.”
At least his play has been giving the Sharks a chance in virtually every contest.
TRADED TO THE “DARK SIDE”
Rob Davison wasn’t sent to anther NHL club or to the AHL – he has crossed sides of the lockerroom. A defenseman by trade, Davison has played several games this year as a forward. On Monday, his locker stall was with the forwards instead of with his fellow defensemen.
A lot of good-natured ribbing went on over the switch and Davison found the positives.
“From over there, I could only see one of the two TVs,” said Davison.
In his place across the room was Sandis Ozolinsh.
“Sandis went from the corner to the middle of the row,” said Davison. “You’ve got to keep the over-35 crowd happy.”
Ozolinsh, 35, had a few words for his teammates.
“I give him a hug today and he says that,” said Ozolinsh. “He can’t have it back even if he’s playing defense.”
The Sharks front office participated in a food sort at the Second Harvest Food Bank
Monday afternoon. More than 13,000 pounds of food was sorted by the staffers in two hours.Click here to see a video of the afternoon featuring Randy Hahn.
|Sharks TV announcer Randy Hahn (front row, far right) joined 15 other employees to help sort food |
Thanks to its donations, Second Harvest is able to assist over 160,000 low-income children, adults and seniors with food each month. Families in the Bay Area are in need of your help, especially during the holiday season. Fans looking to volunteer can click here for more information.
The Sharks will host the Los Angeles at HP Pavilion on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Limited tickets are still available at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The contest will be available on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.