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Nabokov Makes It Look Easy

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
Evgeni Nabokov’s backup was named for opening night when the Sharks sent Thomas Greiss to Worcester and kept Dimitri Patzold in San Jose. Patzold, and likely at times Greiss, will play a vital role for the Sharks as any point lost could be the difference between winning and losing the Pacific Division title.

However, Nabokov will be the one bringing home the bulk of the bacon for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

Nabokov is the netminder who carried the Sharks to their deepest playoff run ever, the 2004 Western Conference Finals and has backstopped Team Teal to two Pacific Division titles.

Nabokov will no longer have to share the netminding duties with Vesa Toskala, but Sharks fans should remember that Nabokov likes playing the majority of the games. Exactly how many games Nabokov will play won’t be known until the end of the season.

“It’s tough to predict how many games he’ll play, but we expect the same high-level of play he’s given us for seven years,” said Sharks Executive Vice President and Assistant General Manager Wayne Thomas.

Nabokov’s lack of concern about games played helps explain how he handled the split duties with Toskala in 2006-07.

“I’m not setting goals of 60 or 70 games,” said Nabokov. “It’s up to the coach.”

Nabokov hopes he can now take the Sharks to a level beyond what he did previously and the average fan will barely notice all the work he is doing. The funny thing about Nabokov, and other elite netminders, is that when they’re playing their best, they can look like they’re doing the least.

“If you make it look easy, your position and reads are at a high level,” said Thomas, a former NHL netminder himself. “If you have to make too many huge saves, there is bad coverage or the goaltender is surprised.”

And Thomas can tell when Nabokov is making it all look easy, which is virtually all the time.

“You can see it, but it’s tough to explain,” said Thomas.

Thomas has a rooting interest in Nabokov as he remembers when the Russian Olympian first showed up in San Jose.

“It seemed that he came here so long ago without equipment,” said Thomas. “He’s a pretty sharp guy and he picks things up easily.”

Unlike his last few seasons with Toskala, Nabokov knows he will have to assist a young netminder playing in his first NHL game. But he’s not concerned about the backup, whether it’s Patzold or Greiss.

“I really believe that once you’re here, you’ve proven you can play,” said Nabokov. “If they have questions to ask, I’ll always help them out.”

Much of the help will be showing them what to do on the ice each and every night.

Patzold, Devin Setoguchi and Torrey Mitchell were all informed over the weekend that they would be NHLers on opening night.

“I found out when Greiss told me he was going down,” said Patzold.

Patzold is excited about starting in San Jose, but that was tempered by the fact his teammate and friend was assigned to Worcester.

“We saw each other all the time,” said Patzold. “At the hotel, going to dinner, coming to games.”

In order to stay in San Jose, Patzold knows there is more work to be done.

“My goal right now is to focus in practice and get better every day,” said Patzold. “I’ve got to stay on my feet more and not be swimming on my knees. I need to read the speed of the game.”

The irony is both Nabokov and Patzold hail from Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan. Nabokov’s parents are of Russian heritage while Patzold’s are Russian and German on their respective sides. And both goalies were coached by Nabokov’s father.

On the forward front, Mitchell wasn’t sure what was happening when he and Setoguchi were called into Ron Wilson’s office prior to Saturday night’s game.

“Ron called us in his office pregame and said he wanted to talk a little and it was about numbers,” said Mitchell. “For a second, I thought it wasn’t good news and we were being sent down.”

Instead Wilson was asking what numbers they wanted to wear.

Mitchell knows that he has to keep working hard to stay in Silicon Valley.

“I can’t get comfortable,” said Mitchell. “There are so many good young players. I’ve got to be focused and keep getting better. There were probably seven or eight of us battling for one to two spots and any of them could play in the NHL.”

Mitchell missed the last preseason game with an injury, but returned to a complete practice on Monday.

“It felt great today,” said Mitchell.

Patzold and Mitchell both had interesting stories about making the team.

“My dad has got to quit smoking,” said Patzold of a side deal with his father.

“I was telling my parents I was having a good camp and they were talking about if I get sent back, I could pick up my car in Burlington (Vermont) and drive it to Worcester,” said Mitchell. “My mom was almost crying.”

Now the car will go to Mitchell’s older brother, but with one caveat.

“My whole life is in that car,” said Mitchell. “Everything I own is there. One person can barely fit in. I don’t know how he is going to get across the border (back to Montreal).”

Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson noted that Mitchell and Setoguchi weren’t in San Jose to watch from above.

“The bring speed and energy,” said Wilson. “Right now, as far as I’m concerned, they’re regulars. They’re not watching from they press box. They’re playing.”

Patzold will wear 30, Setoguchi will wear 16 and Mitchell will wear 17.

“We (Setoguchi and Mitchell) flipped a coin,” said Mitchell. “He won and got 16. I took 17. I didn’t care as long as it wasn’t 69 anymore.”

Several Sharks players used Sunday’s day off to watch the A’s home finale and take in batting practice. The thunder was stolen by Sharks Media Relations staffer Ryan Stenn, who put two over the fence, but it must be noted that Stenn grew up playing baseball in the Bay Area and played for San Jose City College.

As for the Sharks players, Cheechoo came the closest to finding the bleachers.

“I had one hit the fence,” said Cheechoo. “It was about 367 feet, so if I would have pulled it, I might have made it. That’s easier said than done.”

Patrick Rissmiller also took a crack at the plate.

“It was a little rough,” said Rissmiller. “It’s been a while since I swung a bat.”

Cheechoo also used his stick to send the celebratory first pitch to the plate, but it did fall a bit short.

“It’s hard from the grass,” said Cheechoo. “If I was shooting off a board, it would have been easier. I got it in the vicinity so he could make the stop. I lobbed it right in front.”

The A’s may not have been in the playoff chase for the first time in 10 years, but Cheechoo enjoyed the day nonetheless.

“They played well,” said Cheechoo. “It’s relaxing sitting at a game, eating a dog and having fun.”

Tomas Plihal (shoulder) and Brad Norton (sore back) both missed Monday’s practice. The Sharks are still three over the 23-man roster limit and must make final decisions by Tuesday at Noon.

“A couple of guys might end up on the IR,” said Wilson.

POWER POLL has ranked the Sharks as their No. 1 team prior to the start of the season in their weekly power poll.

The Sharks will play Edmonton at 6 p.m. Thursday night and the contest can be caught on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and
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