Evgeni Nabokov: Why His Overuse Looks To Be A Costly Mistake

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Evgeni Nabokov: Why His Overuse Looks To Be A Costly Mistake
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Here we go again.

With 12 games remaining in the regular season, the San Jose Sharks are starting to slip.

And while some fans will say I'm overreacting, the numbers simply don't lie.

The goaltending has been far from adequate this month and the situation doesn't look to improve anytime soon.

During the last five games, the Sharks have allowed a combined total of 23 goals, an average of 4.6 per game.

Starting netminder Evgeni Nabokov has stopped only 175 of the last 197 shots he's faced over his past seven games, good enough for a save percentage of just .888.

Prior to these seven games, Nabokov was absolutely roasted in the Olympics. As the starter for Russia, Nabokov let up 10 goals in three games, finishing with with a terrible 4.10 goals against average and an abysmal .852 save percentage.

Combine those Olympic totals with his seven most recent Sharks contests and Nabokov has posted a disappointing .879 save percentage and an abnormally high 4.00 GAA in his last 10 games.

Unfortunately, this type of poor performance down the final stretch isn't anything new for Nabokov.

In his final nine regular season games last season, Nabokov stumbled to the finish with a .894 save percentage and a 2.77 GAA.

Both marks were much lower than his final season totals from '08-'09 which were .910 and 2.44 respectively.

Furthermore, after falling apart at the conclusion of the regular season, Nabokov continued to struggle during last year's playoffs.

In the six games against the Anaheim Ducks, Nabokov turned away just 138 of 155 shots for a horrendous .890 save percentage.

But why has the 34-year-old netminder struggled in the late stages of both last season and this season?

Well, for one thing, being 34-years-old doesn't help a goaltender with a history of groin problems.

However, the real issue has been head coach Todd McLellan's idiocy in rarely giving Nabokov a day off.

Last year, Nabokov started 62 games and was clearly burnt out come the postseason.

And again this season, Nabokov is on pace to play over 60 regular season games. Throw in the three Olympic contests and Nabokov is on pace to have played 72 meaningful games before the playoffs begin.

This leads to one question: Why is Nabokov being overplayed?

Thomas Greiss has proved to be an adequate backup, one that is capable of playing 25-30 games.

San Jose is a preseason lock to make the playoffs every year. There is no need to overwork a goaltender in his mid-30's who has proven to play better in the playoffs when given a lighter regular season work load.

The only possible reason to overplay Nabokov is to ensure the Sharks finish with a home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

But just like the Pittsburgh Penguins proved last season, (as have many other teams over the years) winning on the road in game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals isn't an impossible task.

What matters most is a team being healthy and fresh to play their best hockey when it matters most.

It does not matter where a team is seeded in the playoffs. Every team has to win 16 games. There are no first round bye's, this isn't the NFL.

And home-ice advantage isn't nearly as important in the NHL as it is in the NFL. Fans being loud affects both teams equally.

The only true differences are that road teams don't get the "advantage" of having the last change and that their players have to put their sticks down first in the faceoff circle.

Neither minor rule gives the home team a genuine advantage.

Clearly, giving Nabokov adequate rest throughout the season is much more important than fighting for home ice advantage.

Why?

A) Because he plays the most important position in hockey.

and

B) Because he plays better in the playoffs when he hasn't been overworked during the season.

Throughout his career, Nabokov has struggled in the playoffs when playing 60 or more games during the regular season.

In his ten years in the league, Nabokov has been the Sharks' starting netminder for six postseasons.

During four of those six years, Nabokov started over 60 regular season contests.

In the subsequent playoffs of those four seasons Nabokov turned in save percentages of .907, .904, .903, and .890.

However, the remaining two years saw Nabokov start 49 and 58 regular season games.

In those subsequent playoffs, Nabokov turned in save percentages of .935 and .920 respectively.

Just a tad bit of discrepancy there, don't you think?

Now is it feasible for Nabokov to have a great playoff after starting 60 or more regular season games? Sure, it's feasible.

Is it also possible for Nabokov to have a poor playoff after starting fewer than 60 regular season games? Sure, it's possible.

But let's get one thing straight, neither is likely.

At his increased age, it would have been much more beneficial to both Nabokov's future career and for the Sharks' Stanley Cup aspirations had the netminder been rested more frequently this season.

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