Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.

PHOENIX -- Evgeni Nabokov is inching closer to 300 career wins, a mark only 25 goaltenders have reached.

When discussing the milestone -- he entered last night's game against the Coyotes with 298 wins -- Nabokov is a little reticent.

"I don't want to say it makes me feel old," he said. "Let's just say I've been around a long time."

Nabokov hasn't been around the Islanders a long time, but it's coming up on the one-year anniversary of a moment Nabokov doesn't care much to look back upon.

After escaping a four-year, $24 million contract with SKA St. Petersburg just three months into the deal in December of 2010, Nabokov signed a one-year, pro-rated deal with the Wings for the veteran minimum of $570,000 on Jan. 20.

Two days later, he was an Islander, with Garth Snow claiming Nabokov off waivers (all players who begin a season on a European contract must pass through waivers after signing with the NHL). The Islanders drew the wrath of the hockey community, with many wondering why they would stand in the way of Nabokov returning to the club of his choosing.

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Nabokov refused to report, the Islanders tolled the contract, got the usual round of bad press in NHL circles, and that seemed to be that. But Snow and Nabokov dined together in April and ironed out their differences, and Nabokov arrived in training camp ready for anything.

"It's not really what I expected, but I didn't really know what to expect," Nabokov said.

Even though the Islanders used him early in the season as possible trade bait, he's their lone healthy goaltender now. Al Montoya (concussion) hasn't been near the ice since he was injured on Dec. 21; Rick DiPietro seems further away from playing than at any time this season.

So Nabokov, who wasn't ready to be an Islander last season, is the most important Islander now, as he heads towards 300.

"It's nice to think about," he said, "but then you think about 320, 350 . . . It's a good thing, I think."

 

Tavares, Bailey milestones

John Tavares played in his 200th NHL game Saturday night against the Coyotes, tying him with Matt Duchene for the most games played by a 2009 draft pick. The Avalanche's Duchene and Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman were the other two top picks after Tavares was taken first overall, and there was some second-guessing when Duchene had a strong rookie season to help Colorado to the playoffs and Tavares had his ups and downs.

The second-guessing is pretty well done. Tavares had 156 points going into the game, 10 more than Duchene, and Tavares has pretty well proven that he was the most talented player from that draft.

Josh Bailey played his 250th game, fourth most among 2008 draft picks. Bailey's future is a little cloudier than Tavares', and Bailey entered the game one point shy of 100 for his career.

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Despite Bailey's struggles and the nonexistent pro career of Corey Trivino, the 36th overall pick who was kicked off the Boston U. team last month for an alleged sexual assault, the 2008 draft has produced two of this season's top Islanders: Travis Hamonic and Matt Martin, second and fourth round picks.

 

They said it

"Sorry, it was a little late." -- former Islander Andy Sutton, apologizing to Tavares for a late hit during the Isles' 4-1 win over the Oilers on Dec. 31. Sutton was well-liked during his three seasons as an Islander and he escaped punishment from the league despite two suspensions totaling 13 games so far this season.

 

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A look ahead

The Islanders kick off a four-game homestand with visits from the Wings on Tuesday, the Flyers on Thursday and the Sabres on Saturday. Tuesday's game marks the first time in five games the Isles have faced a team currently in the top eight in either conference.