It was just last season that Evgeni Nabokov wouldn’t report to Long Island when the Islanders claimed him on waivers. Nearly a year later he has become a key component to the Islanders' recent hot stretch.
Nabokov got his chance to take the reins as the Isles' starting netminder after Al Montoya left the Dec. 20 game against the Winnipeg Jets. While Montoya did not start or play in another game until Jan. 24 against the Maple Leafs, Nabokov started in 15 of the next 17 games for after that, going 8-7 in that stretch. Overall, he’s posted a 2.38 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage this season.
To put into perspective how well Nabokov has played, during the week of Jan. 16 he did two things, one, which hadn’t been done since 2007, and the other hadn’t been done since 1997. On Tuesday of that week, Nabokov was the first Islanders goaltender to shut out the Washington Capitals since Tommy Salo did it on March 7,1997. Two days later he backstopped the Islanders to their first win in Philadelphia in five years.
After many a game you will hear Islanders head coach Jack Capuano utter something along the lines of, “Nabby played great tonight,” or "Nabby kept us in the game.” His teammates also are highly vocal at praising Nabokov’s play after games; 99 percent of the time the praise is warranted since Nabokov has made impeccable saves nearly every night.
But now that Montoya is back, it will be another guessing game of who will be the starter. And whether the Islanders will even keep Nabokov passed the trade deadline.
Since the begging of the season, the consensus opinion was that he would be traded before or at the trade deadline. Some fans still see his starts this season as “showcase” starts, but in reality he has truly earned them and earned the opportunity to stay longer than just up until the trade deadline.
With Rick Dipietro out at least until the end of the season, keeping Nabokov would sustain what has been a surprisingly solid goaltending tandem this season on Long Island. The Islanders, while still barely clinging to playoff hopes, still have some possibility to making a run at the postseason. Not to mention possibly re-signing Nabokov once the season is up and try to keep a solid tandem together.
For now the short-term questions are how many games will he start after the All-Star break and will he still be an Islander past the trade deadline? The longer-term question, should he still be on Long Island after Feb. 27, would he want to stay in an Isles jersey for another season?
He is certainly deserving of the chance to.
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