Christian Arnold, Islanders Point Blank:UNIONDALE, N.Y. — If there had been any concern about Evgeni Nabokov’s ability to make the big saves, they were quieted after Saturday night’s performance against Columbus.
Despite the 3-2 loss in the shootout, Nabokov had a strong performance in his second start of the year. The 38-year-old goaltender made 27 saves on 29 shots and came up big in the clutch moments. Nabokov did not face many shots in the first two periods of the game, but when the Blue Jackets did get them on net they were quality chances. All 12 shots he saw in those periods he turned away.
And even in the third period, where he allowed two goals, Nabokov battled and kept Columbus from capitalizing on several grade-A scoring chances.
The performance was a much better start than Friday night’s game in New Jersey. It took Nabokov a bit of time to settle down in the season opener, but even then he was able to make the big saves when his team needed them the most.
“He obviously made a lot of big saves when we didn’t come out as well as we should of,” Matt Martin said following the 3-2 loss. “Both games he’s really held us in there and we have to be better in front of him.”
During his post game press conference head coach Jack Capuano noted Nabokov’s ability to turn aside the rebound chances Columbus had gotten.
“Nabby not only made the big saves but he made the second and third opportunities as well. And that kept us right where we needed to be,” Capuano said.
Going into this year goaltending, and more specifically Nabokov’s play, were a bit of a question mark. During the lockout shortened season he went 23-11-7 and his play between the pipes was a big reason the Islanders made it into the post season. But his performance dropped off in the playoffs, with Nabokov going 2-4 and posting a .842 save percentage.
Early on it seems Nabokov has found the rhythm he had in the regular season last year. Lubomir Visnovsky called him the Islanders’ best player last night.
“His last game was unreal and he saved this team,” Visnovsky said. “It’s much easier for us if your goalie is like this. He’s unreal. I’m very happy to him and for us it’s good for our team. We got a good start and he played two good games. We must be better and don’t give too much shots to Nabby.”
The Islanders success this season will, in large part, depend on the play of Nabokov in net. If the Russian netminder’s first two games are any indication things are looking up on Long Island. Saturday night’s start was not a win for Nabokov, but it was an outing that left many people feeling good.