SAN JOSE -- Maybe it will happen on the Sharks' four-game trip that begins today in Los Angeles. Maybe that's when Evgeni Nabokov will lose his standing as the only NHL goalie to start every game this season.

Maybe.

"We'll be coming off the Christmas break and then we've got to play four games in six nights with really only one practice in there and a couple pregame skates," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said earlier this week. "That's going to be difficult and I'm going to really have to monitor that."

More than likely, Wilson added, backup goalie Dimitri Patzold gets his first start on the road.

Or maybe not.

"But again," the coach said, "I'll just monitor how we're playing and how Nabby feels. He's worked really hard to be in better shape than he's ever been. ... He's totally committed."

Thirty-five games into the NHL season, Nabokov has gotten the workload he wanted after sharing the Sharks' starting job with Vesa Toskala for two seasons. And he has responded well.

Nabokov's 18 wins are the most of any NHL goalie, and his 2.03 goals-against average is third in the league. His save percentage of .914 trails 13 other goalies, but also reflects the fact that only Detroit and Dallas allow fewer shots against than the Sharks.

No NHL goalie has ever started all 82 games. But the man who came closest, Grant Fuhr, doesn't see any reason that shouldn't happen.

"If you look at the other players, they all play every night so the goalie shouldn't be any different," said Fuhr, now a coach with the Phoenix Coyotes. In 1995-96, Fuhr set the NHL record with 79 starts for the St. Louis Blues.

The job actually becomes easier the more frequently you play, he said.

"You don't have to think about it as much," Fuhr said. "You don't want to think, you just want to react."

Every goalie is going to have bad nights, he said, and that's when coaches can build some rest into a schedule by yanking a netminder early in a game.

Fuhr said Nabokov has looked better this year than in the past.

"It's hard to share the job because you're on edge all the time," Fuhr said. "Nabby's just more confident, and a lot of that is playing every day."

Wilson has said he'll rest Nabokov at the first sign of fatigue. So far his goalie isn't acknowledging any of significance.

"This time of the year you're never going to be 'fresh' fresh," Nabokov said. "But I don't have bad fatigue where it's affecting my game or anything. I try to do my movements and I try to work hard in practice."

It's not as if he hasn't gotten tired, Nabokov said. It's just that the off days built into the schedule have allowed him adequate time to recover.

Nabokov said he hasn't set a target -- 80 games? 75? 70? -- and notes that he played 66 and 67 games his first two NHL seasons.

Prevailing wisdom in the NHL says that goalies need periodic nights off so they're at the top of their game when it's time for the playoffs. Last season, in fact, the Sharks touted the fact they didn't overuse either of their goalies as a playoff strength.

But neither Nabokov nor Wayne Thomas, the Sharks assistant general manager who doubles as goalie coach, see an overtaxed goalie as a postseason concern.

"I think there's been different trends," said Thomas, who cited New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and Vancouver's Roberto Luongo as examples of goalies who had strong playoffs after playing 78 and 76 games respectively.

"Guys are in such good shape now, they really take care of themselves," Thomas added. "They have maintenance programs and stretching programs and eat right."

Nabokov said he doesn't think a full workload would cut into his playoff effectiveness, in part because of the strong defensive play of the team in front of him.

"It's not like I'm having 40-45 shots and the team is absolutely awful and I'm playing by myself," the goalie said. "That's not the case."

Lost in Nabokov's ironman run is Patzold. He has replaced Nabokov three times for 44 minutes and allowed four goals on 20 shots.

"It's very tough," Patzold said this week. "I've never been in a situation like that before. There's nothing to say about it. You just have to work and be ready."

Did Patzold have any expectations about his own number of starts?

"I didn't want to think about how many I would get," he said. "But I probably didn't expect not to get a start until midway through the season."

Contact David Pollak at dpollak@mercurynews.com.