Evgeni Nabokov, Al Montoya

Nabokov era starts in Long Island

Evgeni Nabokov is set to appear in his first game as a New York Islander when the Rangers travel down the Long Island Railroad tonight. Nabokov was a healthy scratch in the Islanders’ first two games of the season, but was given the back-up nod on Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. With Isles head coach Jack Capuano giving Al Montoya a night off and Rick DiPietro out (shocker) with an early season concussion, Nabokov will get a chance to show his stuff with new team.

The regular season start is the final step in a crazy path Nabokov has taken over the last 17 months. As part of the San Jose organization, he helped lead the Sharks to the Western Conference finals in 2009-10; only to fall to the eventual Stanley Cup champs in Chicago. After the season, the Sharks chose to go in a different (cheaper) direction and the Russian netminder couldn’t find any takers for his contract demands. He ended up signing a $6 million (per season) contract with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL—only to leave after only 22 games due to “family circumstances.”

He signed with the Detroit Red Wings to serve as a backup insurance policy for Jimmy Howard. The only catch was that he had to clear re-entry waivers upon returning to the NHL. The struggling Islanders took the opportunity to claim the well-established Nabokov which threw a wrench into everyone’s plans. Nabokov wasn’t coming back to North America to play with just anyone (for $570,000)—he was coming back to play with the Red Wings. He decided that he’d rather sit out of the NHL than play for the Islanders—which means his one-year contract that he signed last season is applied to this season. Long story short, he’s Islanders property this season.

Got all that?

The best case scenario for all parties involved is for Nabokov to perform well to increase his trade value. When DiPietro is healthy (don’t laugh), the Islanders have three NHL goaltenders and only roster space for two. No one will take DiPietro’s contract that expires next decade and Montoya is starting to separate himself as the #1 option. If Nabokov can provide strong backup minutes over the first half of the season, he’d be an ideal candidate to be moved at the trade deadline to a contender that’s looking for goaltending depth. The Islanders did the exact same thing last year when they traded veteran Dwayne Roloson to the Lightning in a mid-season deal.

The first step in the plan is for Nabokov to play well tonight against the rival Rangers.

Goalie nods: Niemi expected for Stars against Penguins

Antti Niemi, Jonathan Toews
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Talk about getting thrown into the fire.

Antti Niemi is expected to be the starting goalie tonight in Dallas when his Stars host Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Niemi has, not surprisingly, been given the assignment over Kari Lehtonen, the latter of whom struggled badly during the preseason, allowing 15 goals on 84 shots.

Not that Niemi was razor sharp himself. He allowed eight goals on 65 shots, for a save percentage of .877.

Considering the Stars have a combined $10.4 million in cap space tied up in those two veteran netminders, it’s no wonder the number-one question facing the club is whether the goaltending has indeed been fixed.

We’ll start to find out tonight.

Marc-Andre Fleury will undoubtedly be in goal for Pittsburgh, though that hasn’t been confirmed.


Craig Anderson, the goalie the Senators decided to keep, versus Robin Lehner, the one they traded to the Sabres.

Cam Ward will start for Carolina when the Hurricanes visit the Predators, who will obviously go with Pekka Rinne. The consensus is that Eddie Lack will eventually supplant Ward as Carolina’s starter, but that apparently hasn’t happened yet.

Brian Elliott goes for the Blues versus Cam Talbot for the Oilers. Elliott was excellent in the preseason, stopping all but two of the 57 shots he faced, while Jake Allen allowed six goals on 60 shots.

Steve Mason for the Flyers versus Ben Bishop for the Lightning.

Ondrej Pavelec for Winnipeg versus Tuukka Rask for Boston.

Devan Dubnyk likely for the Wild versus Semyon Varlamov for the Avs.

Flyers want to prove doubters wrong

Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux
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Jakub Voracek totally understands why nobody’s expecting much from the Philadelphia Flyers. When a team finishes 14 points out of the playoffs the year before, that’s typically going to be the case.

“We weren’t good enough last year, let’s face it,” Voracek told CSN Philly. 

So, no, it doesn’t upset him that the Flyers aren’t considered among the Stanley Cup favorites.

That being said, “it makes you feel you want to prove them wrong.”

The Flyers get going tonight with a tough game against the Lightning in Tampa Bay. They also play Saturday in Florida against the Panthers, before a rematch with the Panthers Monday in Philadelphia.

“My biggest concern would be getting off to a good start,” GM Ron Hextall said. “That’s one thing that we need to do.”

That’s something they didn’t do last year. In fact, they won just once in their first six games. By the end of November, they were 8-12-3 and in a big hole — one that proved too deep to climb out of.

Related: Flyers to start season with seven defensemen