Original Post – 12:20 p.m.: Islanders netminder Evgeni Nabokov has struggled in this series against the Penguins — and in all fairness the Pens have a lot of offensive firepower. He’s allowed 20 goals in five games and has an .845 save percentage. Seven of those goals have come from Pittsburgh’s power play unit. But now, the Islanders are in an interesting position with Nabokov. He hasn’t played so well that it’s a no-brainer to keep him in and the team could be playing back-to-back games this weekend, something Nabokov hasn’t done but once all season.
For better or worse, the Islanders have seemed to make their bed with Nabokov. He started 41 of the team’s 48 regular season games and has played all five playoff games thus far. The Islanders have made clear, by not allowing another goalie more than four starts this year, that Nabokov is their guy and they’re going to stick with him. But now they’re in a peculiar situation.
The Islanders could play back-to-back games; Game Six on Saturday and, if they win that game, Game Seven on Sunday. The team has stuck with their 37-year old netminder during the condensed season through thick and thin, except in that one situation, when the team plays on back-to-back nights.
Seven times the Islanders played a back-to-back set this season, and only once did Nabokov start both games. In that instance, March 9th vs. Washington and March 10th in Pittsburgh, Nabokov started both games but was relieved by Poulin in the second game after surrendering five goals over two periods to Pittsburgh. One instance certainly doesn’t make the case for backup Kevin Poulin but the Islanders’ overall reluctance to sit Nabokov except in these situations seems to dictate that they have a tough decision to make for the weekend.
The Islanders have seemed content to ride Nabokov as far as he will take them. They’ve stuck with him again and again throughout the season and he got them to this point after playing exceptionally well down the stretch in April. They don’t seem quick to change that up. But they’ve got a decision that isn’t so clear cut to make.
They could sit Nabokov Saturday and start Poulin for Game Six, potentially giving Nabokov an extra day of rest instead of having him play three times in four days. It’s clear they’ve had a specific plan for playing Nabokov the whole year. Does that plan change in the playoffs?