Wednesday was a conundrum for Shark fans: Did they want Canada to win the game with the Shark players playing a starring role — but scoring on Shark goalie Evgeni Nabokov and possibly ruining his big-game confidence for the playoffs?
Or did they want Nabokov to shine, with the consequence that the Canadian Sharks — Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley — might look bad and be booed by a full house of upset Canadians?
As it turned out, they have the first question to worry about. Nabokov was not very good in the 7-3 loss, being pulled after the first six goals. I thought he could have stopped three of those six. The other three, I’m not sure anyone could have stopped. The Russian defensemen were playing at a vapid intensity level and allowed way too many easy shots by a motivated Canadian team.
However, stopping just those three shots that I thought Nabokov could have stopped would have still given Russia a chance to win. So a chunk of the defeat definitely falls on his shoulders.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time that Nabokov gave up six or more goals for the Sharks was more than a year ago in a 6-5 loss at New Jersey. But this time, he didn’t just have a team named after a state coming at him. He had an entire country assaulting him in waves.
As backup goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who replaced Nabokov, said of Team Canada’s aggressive start: “They came out like gorillas out of a cage.”
One thing I don’t buy, though, is that this will affect Nabokov in his Shark play the rest of the season. It was one game. He has won big games for Russia in the past, including world championship gold medal games, and has played much better — but then still has been a losing playoff goalie. There’s no reason he couldn’t be a winning playoff goalie after this defeat.
Nabokov, by the way, was terrific in facing the media after the loss. He spent maybe 10 or 15 minutes with Russian reporters and another 10 or 15 with English-speaking reporters. Of course, maybe he just didn’t want to go in the locker room. You can read most of his comments in my Thursday column in the Mercury News.
Some quotes I left out, however, were his compliments about his Shark teammates. Dan Boyle was responsible for the first two Canada goals. He made one of his patented forays deep into the offensive zone and swept behind Nabokov before sliding a perfect backhand assist to Ryan Getzlaf for the score. Then, on Canada’s second goal, all four Sharks were out on the Canada power play when Boyle teed up a long-range shot that Nabokov didn’t see because he was blocked by Marleau in front of the net.
“He’s a difference-maker,” Nabokov said of Boyle. “But so are all of those guys. I thought Patty did a helluva job when he screened me on that goal . . . That’s Canadian hockey right there. They stay in front, they shoot and they’re there for the rebound.”
Boyle said it wasn’t weird to keep firing shots at Nabokov — in fact, Boyle said it was far weirder to jump into the arms of Getzlaf (the Anaheim DUck who’s been a thorn in the SHarks’ side). But Thornton admitted it was strange to shake Nabokov’s hand in the handshake line after the game.
But if you want another positive twist on what happened from the Sharks’ angle, look at it this way: Nabokov will have six days rest before he starts the Sharks’ first game after the Olympic break, next Tuesday against New Jersey.