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|24 августа 2009
Nabokov looking to future // San Jose Mercury News
By David Pollak
Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov will make the transition back to serious hockey this week when he flies to Moscow for the Olympic camp that Team Russia has set up in preparation for February's Winter Games in Vancouver.
Not that the past few months necessarily have been an easy time for Nabokov or any of his teammates. Not after what general manager Doug Wilson labeled the biggest playoff disappointment in franchise history.
"You look at yourself in the mirror and you say that wasn't good enough," Nabokov said of his performance in the first-round loss to the Anaheim Ducks. "And now you say, how are we going to get better and what are we going to change?"
Wilson has had one-on-one talks with all his players since the Presidents' Trophy-winning Sharks lost to Anaheim in six games. But last week, Wilson opened the door on his conversation with Nabokov when he referred to it as "heated" during a radio interview.
Since then, the GM has backed away from that word — but only slightly.
"It was emotional, which was good, which was healthy," Wilson said of his meeting with Nabokov. "It was honest."
"I have great respect for Nabber, his passion," Wilson added. "We all share collective responsibility when we don't get to where we want to get. He heard what I had to say, I heard what he had to say, and we'll leave it there."
Nabokov, who took part in the informal Captain's Ice practices last
week, characterized his meeting
Nabokov finished second in the 2008 Vezina Trophy balloting to determine the NHL's top goalie. Last season, hampered by injuries that limited him to 62 games, he maintained his .910 save percentage but saw his goals-against average climb from 2.14 to 2.44.
The Sharks' failure in the postseason was team-wide, but Nabokov's numbers went the wrong direction. His save percentage dropped to .890 and his goals-against average jumped to 2.82 as his performance over six games didn't match that of red-hot Anaheim rookie goalie Jonas Hiller.
All of which has some people wondering about elements of Nabokov's game and whether he can help the Sharks get the Stanley Cup they covet. His goalie coach, however, is not one of them.
"A year ago he coulda, shoulda won the Vezina Trophy," said Wayne Thomas, who doubles as assistant general manager. "It didn't happen, but people's memories are short. What they remember is a short series we didn't win, and obviously goaltending is a huge part of any series."
Thomas and Nabokov also have had conversations over the summer. Drills and preparation might be slightly different this season, though neither would provide specifics.
"I don't think there's anything huge we want to change," Thomas said. "It's little tweaks."
Nabokov recognizes that it all comes down to what happens each game.
"Practice-wise, discipline-wise, everything went the way we wanted it to," he said. "But the execution in the end wasn't there."
At times last season, it appeared opponents regularly were beating Nabokov through the five-hole. Teams keep track of how opposing goals are scored, but Nabokov and Thomas declined to share those numbers while playing down the idea that any aspect of the goalie's game is particularly troubling.
"What happens, sometimes big goals in big games are scored in certain areas and some people have issues with that," Thomas said. "But we look at the big picture and I don't think there's a big problem in any part of his game."
Nabokov prefers to look forward, not backward. So what needs to happen next?
Hard work and patience, is his first answer. From everyone.
"Well, it looks right now we're pretty good at a marathon and not very good at the sprint," Nabokov said. "So we've got to change that by being as good at the marathon and get better in the sprint. That's what it comes down to."