Over the last decade in the NHL, the list of truly elite goaltenders in the league has always included a select few players. Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy, Chris Osgood, Ryan Miller, and Henrik Lundqvist are always considered elite.
Now there may be a few goalies I'm forgetting to mention on this list, but the point is that each and everyone of the aforementioned goaltenders had the highest amount of confidence from their fan-base.
Granted Chris Osgood's career numbers may not be at the level of the rest of the group, his Stanley Cup rings show how he elevate's his game when it matters most. His knack for making that big save when his team needs it the most has earned him an eternal place in Red Wings history.
However, after the top group of goaltenders who are always considered elite, there is a second-tier cluster of goalies that fans want to consider as elite goaltenders.
That list includes the following: Miikka Kiprusoff, Marty Turco, Niklas Backstrom, Tim Thomas, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Evgeni Nabokov.
At any particular time, fans my claim any number of these goalies to be amongst the elite group of the Brodeur's and the Roy's of the world.
But due to inconsistencies, neither of these goalies have found a secure spot amongst that group.
One goalie who might never will have a secure spot in that group is Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov.
San Jose's ninth round draft pick in the 1994 NHL Draft has always been able to make the flashy saves and put up more than respectable numbers. He won the Calder Trophy for best rookie in the 2000-2001 season and has been a Vezina finalist for best goaltender.
And despite Sharks fans and myself feeling as if Nabokov deserved the Vezina trophy for his 07-08 season totals, perhaps Brodeur winning his 300th Vezina trophy that year shows how Nabokov is just missing something.
He can have all the solid numbers a goalie can get and make all the highlight reel saves but there is just something to be said about winning or not winning for that matter in the playoffs.
Now its not that Nabokov hasn't had good performances in the post-season. During two different playoff runs in his career Nabokov has posted a save percentage above .920 including a mark of .935 during San Jose's run to the Western Conference final in 2003-04.
However, unlike the true elite goaltenders, Nabokov has distinct weaknesses, and he doesn't show that compete factor of a guy like Dominik Hasek.
When you think of a Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Chris Osgood, or Roberto Luongo, none of them have a particular weakness in their game which opponents can exploit.
Nabokov on the other hand has two spots that are often exploited. First and foremost is his five-hole.
Especially in the playoffs last season when the Sharks were ousted by the Anaheim Ducks in six games, Nabokov's five-hole was responsible for the majority of goals against.
Furthermore, I would be very surprised if Nabokov isn't at the top of the league in allowing goals via five-hole in the shootout.
Two games ago, Nabokov was beat twice in the shootout against the St. Louis Blues, including one where it looked as if the Shark netminder didn't even move.
But did Nabokov state he could have performed better? Nope, he seemingly called out his defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic for not blocking the shot that forced overtime with six seconds remaining.
It doesn't matter that Nabokov couldn't see the puck on the tying goal, goaltenders in any sport are supposed to have the mentality that they will block everything that comes there way no matter what the situation and no matter how bad the defense is in front of him.
Did Nabokov have a hot date after the game? Because that last shootout attempt he "tried" to stop looked pretty pathetic.
Unfortunately that five-hole isn't the only weakness Nabokov has but high over the shoulder on his glove side is also being exploited quite frequently.
Just yesterday the Sharks were leading a highly contested game against the Flames by a 1-0 score. The tying goal however was a shot from the outside edge of the face-off circle close to the boards. Granted the puck changed direction off of the stick of Scott Nichol but that deflection was made right next to where the shot was released.
Nabokov has got to make that save. It was not a particularly hard shot and was taken far from a quality angle and the minuscule deflection from far out shouldn't have fooled the Shark netminder.
While Nabokov did stop 34 shots against the Flames, his counter-part Miikka Kiprusoff coincidentally stopped one more shot (35) to secure the victory.
Had Nabokov stopped that first Calgary goal, the game would have been completely different and the outcome could have ended up much more positive for San Jose.
It just appears like Nabokov is almost always good for allowing that one goal that the truly elite goaltenders don't give up.
And instead of pointing the finger at his defenders, Nabokov needs to point it at himself. Sure the San Jose Sharks defense needs to play better, but the goaltending needs to be better at well.
Nabokov needs to get better. If he wants to have a secure place amongst the NHL elite, he needs to get rid of his weaknesses. He has to start making those back-to-back saves where fans just go "wow" there is no way a puck is getting by him tonight.
Just like how the great Dominik Hasek would sprawl out and do whatever it takes to keep the puck out of the net, we need to see Nabokov do just that. He needs to show that mentality, that work ethic of "I don't care how many pucks I have to stop, nothing is getting by me".
Until we see these mental and physical improvements on the ice, Nabokov will always be amongst that group of almost elite goaltenders.
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