The Sharks lost Vezina Trophy nominee Evgeni Nabokov on Nov. 6 to a lower-body injury and promptly went 5-1-1 without him as backup Brian Boucher stepped up big-time.
"Bouch played really well, and so did the whole team," Nabokov told ESPN.com. "That made it easier for me to be out. The team has played good hockey."
The Sharks are an NHL-best 17-3-1 for 35 points, not even blinking when their starting goalie was out. That permitted them to give Nabokov a few extra days to make sure he was 100 percent. What's the rush? He'll be back in net Wednesday night when the Sharks host the Chicago Blackhawks.
"It's been a long almost three weeks, but I've been healthy for the last three or four days," Nabokov said. "I'm feeling great."
For a guy who appeared in a career-high 77 games last season, missing three weeks was a tough pill to swallow.
"It's always frustrating," Nabokov said. "Not to be able to go on the ice and play and even work out for a bit. But it's easier when the boys are winning. Now I'm anxious to get back in there."
But the press-box view allowed Nabokov to soak in his team's performance. After yet another playoff disappointment last spring, Nabokov, like us, sees a different team.
"The biggest thing is how confident the team is," he said. "It seems like it doesn't matter what happens on the ice; we're able to come back or put a team down if we have to. I think the Chicago game was a great example -- when we were down 5-4 and came back and won. And the other night against Washington, we were up 4-2 and were able to score three more goals to not even give them a chance to come back. That's a good sign. I think that confidence is what separates us from last year a bit."
Still, it's too early to tell what this means for the spring, when the Sharks will once again need to pass the only test that matters.
"We're not thinking too much about the playoffs right now," Nabokov said. "We're just focused on making our game better right now. It's a process."
As Jim Mora would say, "Playoffs?!"
Lots of hockey left, but the Sharks do look like a different team right now.