… Plus Niklas Backstrom channels his inner Superman, Braden Holtby focussed on improving shootouts despite giving Washington a great third option, James Reimer has no idea where he goes next despite continuing to impress for lowly Leafs, and more in the Jan. 26 Daily Update.

Nabokov Goalie

Evgeni Nabokov's Trademark upright position. Photo by Dinur Blum

The New York Islanders appear ready to play hardball with AWOL goalie Evgeni Nabokov, suspending the Russian for failing to report after they claimed him off waivers from Detroit, a move that could leave Nabokov owing the team another season of services – at the bargain $570,000 rate he signed for with the Red Wings.

Nabokov, as most know by now, had to clear waivers after signing with Detroit for the remainder of the season because he started the year in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, agreeing to a four-year, $24-million contract in his home country after the San Jose Sharks walked away from him following 10 often-great seasons. But Nabokov left the KHL citing family reasons, and after a month in limbo signed with the Red Wings.

Like most, Nabokov was caught off guard by the Islanders claiming him, according to ESPN.com:

“I think I’m going to stay home for now, I’m sticking with my decision,” Nabokov told ESPN.com over the weekend. “It’s nothing against the Islanders and their organization. It’s nothing to do with that. It’s just that I’m at the point in my career where I want to help a team win in the playoffs. I don’t see how I could help the Islanders or what I could do for them. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. And I hope they understand that.”

Evidently not, given Tuesday’s move to suspend Nabokov and the expected push to “toll” his contract, essentially arguing that Nabokov still owes them a year under those terms because he failed to live up to them. There are precedents for it, which will either force Nabokov to come to New York, or keep him out of the league.

It may be hard to understand the decision to claim Nabokov. And yes, InGoal has heard all the arguments for the move out of New York, but they still make little sense long-term for an organization with three good prospects, even if one is out a couple weeks still with a knee injury, and Rick Dipietro. In fact, there are rumblings from NHL sources that the Islanders simply didn’t understand they couldn’t simply trade Nabokov back to Detroit and were unaware he’s have to clear waivers twice before any deal could be made.

It’s too bad, because based on the comments of Detroit No.1 Jimmy Howard, Nabokov would have been a great fit in Detroit.

All that said, it’s easier to see why they have to play hardball with him now, even if it means an apparently inept franchise risks angering one of the game’s most powerful agencies – Nabokov’s agent Don Meehan works for Newport Sports. In addition to losing face if they let Nabokov force their hand, the Islanders can’t surrender the asset for nothing. The problem, according to the New York Post, is tolling the contract, which also contains a no-movement clause, to next season doesn’t remove the need to send Nabokov through waivers twice before being able to complete any trade. That makes any trade near impossible, and any smooth, amicable ending to another already messy saga involving goalies and the Islanders highly unlikely.

Backstrom back and looking healthy for Minnesota

It was to learn Niklas Backstrom’s hip injury earlier this month was not serious and would not require surgery, if only because it meant the chance to watch more saves like Tuesday night’s head-first Superman effort against Troy Brouwer and the Chicago Blackhawks (video below) after getting wiped out of position in a collision with his own defenseman. Backstrom finished with 30 saves, is 2-1-0 since coming back off what was thankfully diagnosed as a hip flexor strain, and a big reason the resurgent Wild are back in the playoff mix.

Braden Holtby has some ideas on how to practice shootouts

Braden Holtby is providing the Washington Capitals with yet another great young option in goal, stopping 87 of 90 shots while making three straight starts ahead of Semyon Varlamov since being recalled from AHL Hershey after fellow youngster Michael Neuvirth suffered a lower-body injury in a Jan. 18 overtime loss to Philadelphia.

Holtby has given up just one goal in each of the three games, including wins over the Islanders and Maple Leafs, and a 2-1 shootout loss to the Rangers on Monday, when the only goal to get past him in regulation came through, and bounced off, a big crowd in front. But Holtby felt he gave up too many rebounds in the game, and was upset at surrendering three of four in the shootout, including biting in similar fashion on a pair of hard fakes and sliding out of position as a result. The best news for Capitals fans is he planned to work on it right away.

“The ice is a lot more slippery,” Holtby told CSN Washington after his first NHL shootout, adding he had a plan to replicate the tiebreaker conditions the next day: “Hopefully I can work on it and get out early for practice. … I wasn’t patient and just efficient with my sliding so it was frustrating. You have to make those saves to win games. I have to see what I can tweak in that aspect.”

Toronto Marlies Goalie James Reimer

Toronto Marlies goalie James Reimer says improved net play, including setting his skates at the post instead of inside them, was one major change he's made under Maple Leafs guru Francois Allaire.

Reimer continues to impress Leafs, but no idea where he goes next

James Reimer has no idea where he is going this weekend – back to the AHL, or home to Manitoba to visit family – but the more the impressive rookie plays, the more evident he has a future with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Reimer, who told InGoal Magazine his earlier January success in the NHL affirmed all the changes he has made in his game under legendary Leafs goalie guru Francois Allaire, was the lone bright spot in Toronto’s shutout loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, according to Leafs head coach Ron Wilson.

“They were all over us,” Wilson said after being outshot 17-4 in the first period, including an early Martin St. Louis breakaway. “We didn’t have the answer except Reims kept us in the game. He played a great first period.”

Reimer would finish with 29 saves, including two more in alone by St. Louis, and despite 29 saves falling to 4-3-0 this season now sports a 2.25 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. It’s still early and a small sample size, but clearly Reimer deserves to stay in the NHL, which is why there are reports the Leafs want sophomore Swede Jonas Gustavsson to consider a two-week conditioning stint in the AHL.

Of course the humble Reimer, a fourth round pick in 2006, doesn’t want to start assuming anything, according to the Globe and Mail, not even a trip home during the NHL All Star break despite playing seven NHL and four AHL games in nine cities from one side of North America to the other over the past 25 days:

“They could give me the break,” Reimer told the Globe and Mail. “They could send me down and then call me up. They could send me down and let me have the AHL all-star break [Monday and Tuesday] I have a flight booked to go home tomorrow evening, but flights can be cancelled. I have no idea. Hopefully. Whatever they choose, I’ll be good with it,” Reimer said. “And just go with it.”

One-Timers from the Goaltending World (Wide Web):

~ Speaking of Tampa Bay, goaltender Dwayne Roloson was in goal for that shutout of the lowly Leafs on Tuesday, giving him three goose eggs in just 10 starts with the surging Lightning, including two against the Washington Capitals. But true to the veteran form that had InGoal praising his acquisition from the Islanders, Roloson was saying all the right things afterwards about what really mattered.

“I’ve forgotten what the score was,” Roloson said. “I know we won, and that’s all that matters to me.”

As for what matters to goalies, we’re happy to report Roloson was back in the new paint job that debuted here at InGoal before even he had seen it after swapping back and forth a few times with the all-white mask while he tried to get the fit of an air bladder perfected in the new one.

~ San Jose finally called up top prospect Alex Stallock to serve as the Sharks backup Wednesday after relying on emergency recalls to sit behind Antti Niemi the last two games following a last-second groin injury to Antero Niittymaki in Vancouver last Thursday. The first move was understandable, as Niittymaki tweaked his groin in the pre-game skate and sent the Sharks scrambling to find Jordan White at the local university. The second recall over the weekend of 18-year-old J.P. Anderson, a goalie they signed as an undrafted free agent after a strong tryout showing at rookie camp in September, was the result of a busy schedule for their AHL affiliate in Worcester, as explained by the San Jose Mercury News. Through it all, the veteran Sharks appeared to have fun with the situation, especially when White addressed the team pre-game:

“It was pretty cool to see that kid in Vancouver,” rookie Logan Couture told the Mercury News. “I don’t think the smile left his face the entire day. I didn’t think he was going to stop [talking when asked to address the team before playing the Canucks] He just said, ‘I’ve watched these guys a lot, they’re my favorite team, stay out of the box,’ stuff like that. It was pretty funny. … And then here, we get to see a junior kid come up, and he’s the same way. He’s been smiling all morning. It’s fun to see.”

Niittymaki’s injury isn’t considered serious, but he had to be out a week because San Jose put him on injured reserve to clear the roster space needed for other moves, including getting emergency replacements.
Jeff Frazee Albany Devils Goalie MAsk
~ Things may be turning around in New Jersey, but they aren’t looking up for Devils’ prospect Jeff Frazee, who requires knee surgery. The good news is it is only an exploratory procedure for now, and according to Devils’ General Manager Lou Lamoriello’s quotes in The Star-Ledger, they “don’t think it’s serious.” That’s not likely to phase Frazee anyway. This is, after all, a goaltender who had a big scar painted on his new mask to remind him of the matching pattern on his neck after a skate cut almost killed him.

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