Evgeni Nabokov is on pace to play 80 games this season for San Jose. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)
The best, busiest and most blueline-challenged goaltenders in the NHL this season:
Great Teal Shark
Evgeni Nabokov has never really been a year-end contender for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie. Yes, he won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie in 2001 and – with the exception of an off-year in 2005-06 – is annually among the top stoppers.
But Nabokov plays in San Jose and can be sometimes forgotten out there on the West Coast. And, prior to this season, he was backed up by Vesa Toskala; in 2006-07, Nabokov and Toskala alternated starts all season until Toskala went down with an injury before the playoffs.
Nabokov had never played more than 67 games in a season before this year; now, it looks like he might surpass that figure by Game 69.
That’s because this year, it’s all Nabokov, all the time. With Toskala in Toronto, Nabokov has started every game but one this season and has been key to the Sharks’ success.
Unproven rookies Dmitri Patzold and Thomas Griess have shared the backup duties – it was Griess who got the lone start, a 4-3 loss at Anaheim Jan. 13 – so Nabokov’s consistently stellar netminding has taken the pressure off the rest of the team and coaches.
With a 29-17-6 record – Nabokov has won more games than any other goalie this season – he’s on pace for 45 victories, which would smash his personal-best mark of 37 wins (set in 2001-02). And the 32-year-old Russian has a 2.17 goals-against average (it was below 2.00 before a stretch of pedestrian play in mid-January), .911 save percentage and six shutouts.
As it stands right now, Nabokov deserves to be mentioned in the top rung of Vezina contenders, along with Roberto Luongo, Martin Brodeur, Henrik Lundqvist (assuming he regains his early season form) and heck, maybe even Chris Osgood, he of the garish 22-4-2 record.
Lookin’ like Luongo
No goalie has made more saves this season than Tomas Vokoun in Florida. It hasn’t helped a whole lot, though: Vokoun has more losses than every other NHL netminder, too. The Panthers stopper had made 1,598 saves as of Feb. 8 – that’s a league-high 32.9 per game – and had a 23-22-4 record to show for it. Vokoun’s 22 regulation-time defeats were one more than Lundqvist and Rick DiPietro.
Olaf Kolzig turns 38 the week the playoffs begin, and the longtime Washington Capitals stopper is finally showing his age. Among the 45 goalies who have appeared in at least 20 games this season, Kolzig ranks dead last – 45th – in save percentage, at .884. His 3.07 goals-against average is also near the bottom of the league.
While Kolzig’s stats suffer somewhat due to a still inexperienced defense corps in front of him, the truth is, he’s played far better with far worse bluelines in past years.
Kolzig first entered Washington’s crease in 1989-90, finally earned starting job in 1997-98 – when he led the Caps to their only Stanley Cup final appearance – and has been Washington’s workhorse ever since.
It’s too bad the team is rising as a contender just as Kolzig appears to be winding down. He deserves better than the five playoff victories he has won in three playoff rounds since 1998. Washington hasn’t won a playoff series since they made the final a decade ago; the last time the Caps were even in the post-season was 2003.
Sam McCaig’s From The Point appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.