CALGARY – Evgeni Nabokov finally made his debut for the New York Islanders, eager to put the ugliness of last season behind him.
In his first game in an Islander uniform, Nabokov stopped 15 of 16 shots in two periods of pre-season action as New York lost 2-0 to Calgary on Tuesday.
“I liked him, I liked him a lot,” said Islanders assistant coach Dean Chynoweth. “Our plan going in was to give him two periods and let Mikko (Koskinen) go in for the third. We probably could have left (Nabokov) in, he’s champing at the bit to get going.”
Nabokov, 36, refused to play for New York last season after the Islanders claimed him on Jan. 22 off NHL re-entry waivers, thwarting the Detroit Red Wings’ attempt to sign him. The Islanders suspended Nabokov for the remainder of the 2010-11 season for refusing to report to the team.
“With the situation that went on last year, the guy couldn’t have come in with a better attitude so that’s been really good,” said Chynoweth. “He’s been really good all camp.”
Nabokov was a 44-game winner with the San Jose Sharks in 2009-10 before struggling most of last season in the KHL.
He is competing for a roster spot with incumbent starter Rick DiPietro and rookie Al Montoya, who reeled off an impressive 9-5-5 finish last season after being recalled from the minors in mid-February.
Nabokov says he hopes to be the Islanders starter when they open the season on Oct. 8 at home to Florida.
“My goal is to be in the net, to get the call and go in and do my job. But sometimes it’s out of your control,” Nabokov said. “In a perfect world, I would want to play more exhibition games but it’s such a short pre-season and they were six goalies here. It’s not my call, I’m just going out there and doing my best.”
At the other end of the ice 27-year-old Swede Henrik Karlsson was perfect, stopping all 13 shots he faced.
With Calgary icing the more veteran line-up, the young kids on the Islanders found it difficult to generate much offence. When they did, Karlsson was there to shut the door.
“Not much to do today, but you have to stay focused and play for 60 minutes,” Karlsson said.
The six-foot-five goaltender re-signed with Calgary during the summer after going 4-5-5 last year as Miikka Kiprusoff’s backup in his first taste of the NHL.
“It would have been fun to get a couple more shots, but the team played good,” Karlsson said. “Some games are like that and you have to manage to play good in those kind of games.”
The game-winning goal came at 4:10 of the second period on a nice short-handed goal by Curtis Glencross, who took a pretty pass from Matt Stajan as he streaked through the slot and tucked a backhand behind Nabokov.
“It’s starting to feel better every game and that’s the goal in pre-season,” said Glencross, who is coming off a career-high 24-goal season that earned the potential unrestricted free agent a new US$10.2-million, four-year contract.
The Flames trio of Glencross, Olli Jokinen, and David Moss was the only line for either team comprised of regular NHL linemates, and their familiarity showed as they created several decent scoring chances.
“They’ve put Ollie and I and Mosser together here early to get things going again like last year when we played together,” Glencross said.
Calgary added a second goal at 4:21 of the third period when Lee Stempniak finished a two-on-one with Alex Tanguay, taking a perfect set-up from the veteran playmaker and firing his second pre-season goal behind Koskinen.
“It was a great pass. I had a lot of time to put it in. I love getting passes like that,” said Stempniak, who was acquired from the Phoenix at the end of August in exchange for Daymond Langkow.
“It feels good to score goals, especially in the pre-season to try and build something and get on a roll heading into the regular season.”
Calgary improved to 2-3-0 with one pre-season game remaining, Thursday night versus the Coyotes.
New York, which was playing just its third game, fell to 1-2-0 with two games remaining in a shorter than normal five-game pre-season slate.
Notes: The Islanders sat numerous regulars including forwards John Tavares, Michael Grabner, Matt Moulson, and Kyle Okposo… Former Flames defenceman Steve Staios played in his third straight game for the New York. The 38-year-old is in the Islanders camp on a tryout basis… Calgary RW Jarome Iginla (back) is still not back skating. RW Rene Bourque is also nursing a nagging injury and isn’t likely to return to action until the season opener. Veteran C Brendan Morrison (off-season knee surgery) is skating but has not been cleared for contact. His availability for the start of the regular season is not yet known.