Take yourself back, if you will, to those strange days in mid January when the injury to Nathan Lawson (goalie #3 of 6 -- or 7-ish -- on the year) meant the Islanders were in desperate need of a goalie and Evgeni Nabokov was in desperate need of a team. It was a match made in heaven, or at least in heaven's 24/7 convenience store.
The Islanders, whose season was finally showing signs of a rebound, would give Nabokov a chance to revive his NHL credentials after striking out on the free agent market and flopping in the KHL. Nabokov would ensure the Islanders' steady recovery from their November hell would not be interrupted by yet another goalie injury and the rushed introduction of rookies Mikko Koskinen and Kevin Poulin (who, of course, would also see his season end in injury).
My memory's foggy, but I wanna say it didn't quite work out that way.
Nonetheless, what I do remember quite vividly -- really, who could forget? -- is that Nabokov went the entire rest of the season without conceding a single goal against for the Islanders. Typically we only grade players who played a full season with the Islanders, but a spotless performance in the clutch like that deserves its own report card. Follow along to weigh his performance and vote your grade for the new "Mr. Zero."
When Life Gives You Lemons, Ferment Them to Make Lemon-infused Vodka
To me the greatest thing about Nabokov's performance this year was how he embraced the ages-old hockey concept of doing whatever the team needs. True, he originally signed with Detroit on the cheap -- perhaps failing to grasp the CBA implications -- in hopes of getting a "Red Light Racicot" free ride to a Stanley Cup after so many years of falling short while behind the wheel in San Jose.
And make no mistake: Those plans were scratched once the Islanders had the gall, the nerve to exercise their CBA-given rights and claim him on waivers. But that didn't deter Nabby. I mean, he could have easily said:
"I don't see how I could help the Islanders or what I could do for them. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. And I hope they understand that."
But no (no?), he looked adversity in the face, saw his career at a turning point, and embraced the opportunity to be the backbone who steadies a young team and mentors its young goalies. Why, if it worked out, chances are he could earn a less "pointless" NHL job next season. That kind of thing can happen, right?
So how did it work out? In a word: Perfectly. But I'll let his 2010-11 NHL stat line tell the story:
Data for this feature is not currently available
What the? Wait a second...lemme fix that. Okay, here:
Without a single regulation loss or shootout loss, Nabokov grabbed the reins to give up the fewest goals and post the best goals against average of any Islander in franchise history.
It was nothing short of a heroic performance, which is why GM Garth Snow would've been crazy not to retain Nabokov's rights for another season.
And even if Snow decides the Islanders have enough healthy goalies (ha!) under contract for 2011-12, thanks to Nabokov's singular performance in the second half as an NHL goaltender, he is in demand this summer. Maybe he'll even land in Phoenix (which is close-ish to California) to return the favor for Al Montoya who came to the Islanders through ... circumstances I can't quite recall at the moment.
We do this with every report card. You have to suffer or skip over it.
Standing on your head
No red lights in sight
Nary a goal allowed
You showed up each night
From San Jose to Russia
And then to undisclosed locations
When Fortune stalled and pushed ya'
You showed up each night
The details of the CBA
Are for agents and for bloggers
But we know what your plaque will say:
"He showed up each night."
Was it that glove save we loved most?
Or perhaps the two-pad stack?
Not sure, but accept this toast:
To the man who showed up each night
I hope this don't annoy ya'
Your play stirred memories of another
Could it be Al Montoya?
Wait, no, that can't be right
The route to all those zeroes
Is neither here nor there
'Cause you're one of our heroes
For showing up each night
Sometimes life's decisions
Can come back to bite
But the man free of derision
Is he who shows up each night
Normally we ask "based on your preseason expectations," grade the player on how well he met them. But since no one knew Nabby would be an Islander before the season, we'll just ask you to grade him based on what you expected when he was acquired.