Shark-Infested Blogger

January 24, 2010 10:57 AM

Sharks Continue to Ride Nabokov to Victory

The San Jose Sharks continued their winning ways Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres, as Evgeni Nabokov turned away 38 of 40 shots.

That .950 save percentage has been reached by Nabby in four straight games, and he has saved over nine of ten shots in all seven games he has played over the last two weeks. He has given up just one goal in six of those games, and two in the other.

The question is whether he can maintain this level of play with this workload through the playoffs. Nabby is on pace to play in 70 games, plus at least four in the Olympics--no goalie has won a Stanley Cup with that kind of workload past the age of 30 in decades.

But if he keeps playing like this, the Sharks will have the same success when it matters most as they are having now. San Jose is a game and a half ahead of Chicago for the best record in the NHL, and Nabby is the team's best player.

Sure, the Sharks have many players producing: Patrick Marleau leads the league in goals, Joe Thornton has led the league for almost the entire year in assists, Dany Heatley has been in the top five for goals the whole season, Dan Boyle is third among defencemen in points...but no one is playing at the level Nabby is.

Last season, the Sharks outshot their opponents in virtually every game, riding that to victory. This season, they have been outshot in 15 of their 35 wins, meaning they no longer need to dominate to win.

Nabby has a better save percentage on the penalty kill than he has overall, one of the leading factors in San Jose's streak of 34 straight penalties killed that was ended in the third period Saturday night. He has outplayed fellow Olympic goaltenders Miikka Kiprusoff, Ryan Miller, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jonas Hiller, and Jonathan Quick in that stretch. In his only loss, (in a shootout to another Olympian, Tim Thomas), the only goal he yielded was kicked in by Boyle.

The Sharks still have issues, namely...
  1. They were outplayed by Buffalo in the first and last period, and could not match the Sabres' intensity.
  2. They seem to take more penalties than their opponents often.
  3. They rely too heavily on their top line, with 40 percent of their goals coming from Heatley and Marleau, and over half coming from the five players that are out there on the opening faceoff.

But if Nabokov keeps playing like this, the Sharks will still be playing Memorial Day. That would be a nice feeling.

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