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January 26, 2011
On The Beat
Nabokov's No Show

by John Perrotto

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Evgeni Nabokov didn't have to say a word to let the Islanders know that he had no interest in playing for them.

The veteran goaltender hung up on Garth Snow when the Islanders GM called after claiming him off waivers last week. Nabokov had to pass through waivers when he signed as a free agent with the Red Wings after beginning the season in the Russian KHL.

"He had his heart set on going to Detroit, obviously," Snow told the New York Daily News. "I told him I respect that, but he's a New York Islander now and we'd love to have him [be] part of our group. He'll come here. He's a professional."

However, it seems unlikely that Nabokov will put on an Islanders' sweater. He was suspended on Tuesday for not reporting and told ESPN.com that he is willing to sit out the rest of the season.

The Islanders could use Nabokov after trading veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson earlier this month. They are thin in net behind starter Rick DiPietro as 20-year-old Kevin Poulin is the current backup.

The Islanders have the right to suspend Nabokov for not reporting and to "toll" his contract. That means they can push it back through next season if he doesn't honor it, thereby precluding him from playing for another team in 2011-12. The Islanders are unlikely to put Nabokov back on waivers with the intention of trying to deal him, because it's very doubtful he would clear before a trade could be completed.

Meanwhile, Red Wings GM Ken Holland wasn't surprised to lose Nabokov, especially since his contract calls for him to be paid only around $250,000 for the remainder of the season. Thus, Holland will continue to look for goaltending help as backup Chris Osgood is out until sometime in March after undergoing hernia surgery on January 11. Joey McDonald remains starter Jimmy Howard's understudy.

"We move on," Holland said. "I didn't make the move because I was concerned about our goaltending or I was concerned about Osgood's health. I've been comfortable all along. We tried something. It didn't work. We're fine with where we're at."

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Pardon the Panthers for feeling a little paranoid this season. They have been the wrong side of five goal calls, including one last Friday in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Lightning in which defenseman Bryan Allen was called for tripping Vinny Lecavalier in overtime that led to a penalty shot. Replays clearly showed that Allen made a clean play on the puck.

"That's the way it seems to be going," Allen said. "We never get the benefit of the doubt. That's frustrating. I don't know if it's because we're playing better teams, but we get the short end of the stick. Maybe it's because we don't play in a big media market like Canadian teams or other cities where there's more attention. It comes with the territory of where you are. We have to earn respect in all areas."

Panthers coach Pete DeBoer tries to avoid all talk about officiating, saying "I have three kids and a mortgage."

Twice this season the NHL has apologized to the Panthers for missed calls. Early in the year, the Maple Leafs ran over goaltender Scott Clemmensen as a shot was coming through. The puck hit Colton Orr and deflected into the net for a game-winner. NHL senior vice president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell said the next day that not only should the goal have been waved off, but the Panthers should have been given a power play. Earlier this month, Bryan McCabe scored what appeared to be a game-tying goal against the Thrashers but on-ice officials didn't see the puck in the net and play continued. NHL vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy said the league should have reviewed the goal but it didn't and the Panthers lost.

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A .500 record isn't exactly what the Devils had in mind when the season began. However, that is their goal now as they have just 35 points, fewest in the league, with a 16-29-3 record.

The Devils have won six of their last seven games, giving them a belief they can get to breakeven for the season.

"I don't see why we can't get there by the end of the year," goaltender Martin Brodeur said.

"It's a good feeling in here," said center Jason Arnott. "It certainly is a lot more fun winning than losing. I think Jacques [Lemaire] has had a big, huge part in that, turning us around, giving us a system that fits our team. When we do it right, we create goals and we prevent goals. When we do it wrong, we get back into the old style that we played at the beginning."

Lemaire's first observation when he came back for his third stint as the Devils' coach was that he was inheriting a team that was out of shape and lacking confidence. Improvements in both those areas and Lemaire's strategic move of getting the defensemen more involved in the offensive end have made an impact.

"Every one of us, we're controlling the puck a lot more," winger Patrik Elias said. "We're encouraged to do that. We're encouraged to move our legs. It's a lot of little things that come together and we've been doing them and that's the main reason lately, we've been trying. And every one of us has been doing it. I think Kovy (Ilya Kovalchuk) has been in the last couple of games probably playing the best defensively I've seen him play ever. He's not going to do it every time, every night, but he's getting there. He's making the plays."

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Avalanche coach Joe Sacco might want to consider playing the bad guy more often. Upset about his team being outscored 11-3 in losing its previous two games, Sacco put his team through a tough practice on Sunday for 90 minutes and it responded with a 4-3 victory over the Blues on Monday night.

"It sent a message," rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said.

The Avalanche moved back into eighth place in the Western Conference. However, the Avalanche is just 4-6-2 in its last 12 home games and Sacco wants to see a more consistent effort.

"Basically my job is to make sure that preparation-wise we are where we need to be, that our focus is where it needs to be," Sacco said. "For me, it started with [that] practice. I just thought that we needed a good, hard, crisp practice. There was a lot of battle drills involved."

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