At one point, Evgeni Nabokov didn’t want to play for the New York Islanders. After being plucked off re-entry waivers by the Isles away from the Detroit Red Wings who were looking for backup goalie insurance with the former Sharks superstar, Nabokov decided sitting at home was better than playing out the string with the Islanders.
What a difference a new season makes. Nabokov will be in goal tonight in Calgary as the Isles take on the Flames. Nabokov entered the preseason looking to compete for a job with the Islanders and perhaps playing ball the right way with the organization to attract interest from another team looking to deal for him. Luckily for Nabokov, if he’s looking to land a job on Long Island he’s got a good shot at making it count.
Nabokov’s competition for a NHL job consists of oft-injured assumed starter Rick DiPietro as well as last season’s surprise revelation Al Montoya. Kevin Poulin is also in camp with NHL experience from last year and hoping to get a shot as well, but with a guy like Nabokov in camp with his résumé in the league that changes the dynamic for competition.
If Nabokov can show that his awful performance last year in the KHL was just an aberration and he can be a top flight goalie again, all of a sudden the Islanders are awash in goaltending depth after having none last season after trading Dwayne Roloson to Tampa Bay. For a guy as old as Nabokov is (he’s 36), he’s still got time to play as goalies have shown they can play into their 40s.
Nabokov getting a look tonight against the Flames is the most important start for him personally. If he plays well and shows he’s still a capable top flight starter, he can either help the Islanders or another suitor thrive. It’s either that or he ends up being irrelevant as an NHL scratch or buried in the AHL left to figure things out.