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Sean Leahy

Evgeni Nabokov puts his name in the Vezina race

Sean Leahy
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Please recall last month where we broke down the race for the Vezina (and Hart) Trophy race between Ryan Miller(notes) of the Buffalo Sabres and Martin Brodeur(notes) of the New Jersey Devils. Well, it must have been a jinx because since Jan. 12, Miller is 4-6-2 and Brodeur has posted a 5-8-1 record. One goaltender that has played himself into consideration but has been over looked due to the dreaded "East Coast bias" is Evgeni Nabokov(notes) of the San Jose Sharks.

A finalist for the Vezina Trophy in 2008 (losing to Brodeur), Nabokov has been one of the NHL's more consistent goaltenders over the past three seasons and a workhorse for the Sharks. Since the 2007-08 season, Nabokov has been in goal for 190 games, winning 120 of them. This season he's won 33 of the Sharks' 39 victories and is currently second in the NHL in wins, fifth in goals-against average (with the second most played games of the five) and tied for fourth in save-percentage. Nabokov, 34, is doing this in the season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. With San Jose seemingly not ready to hand the reigns to Thomas Greiss(notes) or any other prospect in their system, there could be a nice bump in pay for Nabokov as the Sharks would rather chase a Stanley Cup with their experienced netminder as this team is built to win now.

This Sharks team, according to Nabokov, is a much different team than what we've seen in the past:

"We can score, this team," Nabokov said. "Some games when we are not playing well, we are still able to win because of that. Some guys can be having a tough night, but we are still able to get two points."

"I think we are more patient with each other and calmer, off the ice and on the ice," he said. "I think we ... stay more even keel, where in the past, we might get excited too much at certain times."

Of course, we all know that San Jose will need to prove themselves in the playoffs before the critics get quiet. The Sharks' success in the postseason will hinder greatly on Nabokov's play, no matter how much firepower Todd McLellan has in his lineup. He'll likely start for Team Russia in the Olympics and depending on how long of a run they make in Vancouver, there will be questions coming out of the break about how much of an affect the extra games will have on him down the stretch and into the postseason for San Jose.

Nabokov's play at the moment bodes well for Team Russia, but as we saw with Henrik Lundqvist(notes) after the 2006 Games, Olympic success doesn't always bode well for the player's club team when they return. If the workload doesn't hinder his play in the final month of the season, he should play his way into a Vezina nomination come season's end.

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