Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sheer Larceny: Evgeni Nabokov Robs Philadelphia, Isles Win 1-0 (SO)

Nearly 13 hours later, I still cannot find the proper words to describe last night's game between the Islanders and Flyers.

The simple explanation is that Philly took 45 shots and Evgeni Nabokov stopped every last one of 'em. How on earth the Isles escaped with a win is just beyond my comprehension.

By no stretch of the imagination did the Islanders play well. As expected, in light of Travis Hamonic's injury, the defense was in total disarray.

The Flyers were given quality scoring chance after quality scoring chance in this hockey game and, even despite Nabokov's heroics, could've cashed-in on a few if not for a couple of unlucky bounces.

That's not to say there weren't some bright spots on the blueline. Mark Streit played well and Mark Eaton was solid too.

Aaron Ness, who made his NHL-debut last night, didn't look out of place and made some real smart decisions with the puck. If Ness was nervous about playing in a pressure-filled situation, such as the one he found himself in last night, he sure didn't appear to be out on the ice. That's an encouraging sign.

Already minus Hamonic and Milan Jurcina, the Isles lost Dylan Reese during last night's game too. It appears to be a knee injury and he might miss some time, which could mean a call-up for Matt Donavan or Ty Wishart.

I thought that even though they only mustered 18 shots, the Islanders did a nice job offensively when they actually had the puck. That wasn't very often because, for most of this game, the Flyers did.

That's what happens when you don't clear the zone, you're not physical enough and you leave passing and shooting lanes wide-open.

The Isles did generate some odd-man rushes, especially in the first period, but were unable to convert.

Ilya Bryzgalov was not tested often but he did make a couple of nice saves and he was able to do what the Flyers expect him to do, which is keeping pucks out of the net.

Three times, the Islanders were given a powerplay opportunity and, three times, Philly did an excellent job shutting those chances down. There's a reason why the Flyers are fourth-best in the NHL in that category.

Josh Bailey was the best forward for New York. Not only was he superb on the penalty-kill, which has become something we're now used to seeing from Irish Cream, but he made some nifty moves in overtime, beating three different Flyers and pulling to his backhand right in front of the net, only to be stopped by Bryzgalov.

Of course, the real star of the show was the other Russian net-minder in this game, Evgeni Nabokov. He was seemingly all over the place and, from the end of the middle frame onward, you could tell that the Flyers were visibly frustrated and that Nabokov had gotten into their heads.

By some miracle, the Islanders survived through 65 minutes and wave after wave of Flyer rushes.

For the second-consecutive game, they found themselves in a shootout and, unlike Saturday night against Buffalo, the Isles emerged victorious.

Frans Nielsen (who else?), who signed a four-year contract extension earlier in the day, used pulled to his (in)famous backhand, roofing the puck past Mr. Universe.

Nielsen's conversion-rate in the shootout is 58% and he is widely-considered to be the best shootout player in NHL history, at least to this point.

John Tavares also scored for New York, wristing one five-hole past Bryzgalov.

Nabokov denied both Daniel Briere and Wayne Simmonds in the skills contest, sealing the victory for the Islanders.

As was also the case against the Sabres this weekend, the Islanders did not necessarily deserve a point, let alone two. His teammates didn't exactly show up, but Evgeni Nabokov sure did.

Star goaltenders have that ability to shift into overdrive and steal wins; that's what Nabokov is and that's precisely what he did in this game.

Would you trade him for a third-round pick before the deadline? I know I wouldn't. He's a fantastic goaltender and the Isles aren't going to get nearly-enough in return for him, were they to deal him to a contender.

Never mind that, how about the fact that this team isn't out of the hunt yet and maybe, just maybe, Nabokov can carry these guys on his back and propel the Islanders into playoff contention.

Either way, he's an asset they simply cannot afford to lose right now. If Henrik Lundqvist is the best goaltender in the Atlantic Division, I'd argue that Evgeni Nabokov is now right behind him.

Garth Snow knew exactly what he was doing when he essentially forced Nabby to report for training camp this season, that this goaltender could work wonders for the Isles.

Maybe the New York Islanders have some fight in them after all. When was the last time they were a .500 team in February? It's been a while.

You wouldn't necessarily know it from looking at the standings, but the Isles are showing signs of progress and are headed in the right direction.

Comments are welcome.


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