Nabokov seemed unlikely to ever play for the Islanders when he declined to report to the team last season after being claimed off waivers, but he got the starting nod Saturday night in New York's fourth game of the season.
The 36-year-old goalie was scratched for the Islanders' first two games and then served as backup to Al Montoya on Thursday when New York beat Tampa Bay at home.
Montoya started all three games this season and played all but two minutes. He was backed up in the first two games by Rick DiPietro, who is out indefinitely with a concussion sustained in practice Wednesday when he was struck in the mask on a shot by teammate Brian Rolston.
Nabokov is making his return to the NHL after playing part of last season in Russia's KHL. After being released by SKA St. Petersburg, he had hoped to be back in North America when he signed a one-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings in January. Nabokov played in only 22 games for St. Petersburg.
The NHL's collective bargaining agreement states that anyone who plays in a professional league before signing an NHL contract must clear waivers. So before he played for Detroit, he was plucked off the waiver wire by New York.
Once claimed, Nabokov refused to report, saying he preferred to stay home on the West Coast instead of going to a noncontending team such as the Islanders.
During the summer, New York held over Nabokov's contract, meaning he was still bound to the team for this season. Nabokov came to training camp and is now part of a crowded goalie mix with Montoya and the veteran, yet oft-injured DiPietro.
In 563 NHL games with the Sharks, with whom he debuted in the 1999-2000 season, Nabokov is 293-178-66 with a 2.39 goals-against average. He hasn't played in an NHL regular-season game since beating Phoenix on April 10, 2010. This is his first NHL game overall since May 23, 2010, when Chicago completed a sweep of San Jose in the Western Conference finals.
Nabokov, the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy in 1998, has a 4-3 record with a 2.42 GAA in seven career games against the Rangers.