NHL Rumors: Can Evgeni Nabokov Repeat His Impressive 2011-12 Season?

By Mark Donatiello

Evgeni Nabokov was a big reason behind much of the success of the New York Islanders last year.  Nabokov finished above .500 on a team with the second-worst goal differential in hockey, and the worst in the Eastern Conference.  On a team that finished tied for last in the conference in goals scored, Evgeni Nabokov and the other goaltenders in the Islanders rotation will need to be brilliant for the team to be competitive in 2012-13.  At age 37, can Evgeni Nabokov repeat his impressive 2011-12 season?

Evgeni Nabokov only had two seasons with a record worse than last year’s 19-18-3 record.  If anything, last season was a weak season for him in that regard.  His career saves percentage is .912, which is nearly identical to his impressive .914 season a year ago.  In significantly fewer minutes than in seasons past, Evgeni Nabokov put together a very impressive season and kept the New York Islanders in games.  With most of his statistics in line with a lengthy career as a solid goaltender, it seems reasonable to expect Evgeni Nabokov to be able to replicate last season’s relative success.  Just three years removed from three consecutive seasons with more than 40 wins, Nabokov could still be a top goaltender with the right supporting cast.

However, Evgeni Nabokov is getting old.  At 37, his best years are well behind him.  On a relatively weak defensive team, Evgeni Nabokov allowed more goals per game than any other season except for 2006.  Nabokov cannot be relied on to stand on his head and the New York Islanders did little to improve this offseason.  Expect more of the same from the New York Islanders in 2012-13 as they allow their young offensive talent to develop.

Despite limited minutes due to injury, Evgeni Nabokov still faded down the stretch.  The New York Islanders lost 7 of his final 11 starts, including wins in his final two games.  In fact, Nabokov had two terrible losing streaks during last years campaign that marred an otherwise stellar performance.  On a team with so little stability, Nabokov is too streaky.

Unfortunately for Evgeni Nabokov, he is little more than a bridge to younger talent for the Islanders.  He’ll be thrown to the wolves again next season as New York continues to develop star players like John Tavares.  Expect Nabokov to continue to battle and put up somewhat comparable numbers to last year, but don’t expect much success.  While he’s capable of the occasional big upset, Evgeni Nabokov is not able to carry this team on his own.  The Islanders are simply too young for Evgeni Nabokov to finish above .500 again – especially with his deteriorating skill set.  Look for Nabokov to lose interest somewhere along the way and be a bit of a disappointment this season.

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