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The San Jose Sharks dropped out of first place in the Western Conference while goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was sidelined, so getting him back should provide a big lift for a team that has been anything but dominant lately.
Nabokov hopes to return after a seven-game absence Saturday night when the slumping Sharks host the Los Angeles Kings.
Leading the West by three points on Feb. 25, San Jose (43-13-10) has struggled to a 1-4-1 mark in its last six games to fall one point behind Detroit in the race for the top seed in the conference.
The Sharks concluded a three-game trip Thursday with a 3-1 loss to St. Louis as captain Patrick Marleau's team-leading and career-high 35th goal accounted for the only offense.
San Jose's slide coincides with losing Nabokov, who is second in the NHL in wins (32), to an undisclosed lower-body injury last month. Brian Boucher has started the last seven games, posting a 2.98 goals-against average during that stretch.
Nabokov may be ready to return, however. He practiced Friday and will be in uniform Saturday, according to the Sharks' official Web site, although it hadn't been determined whether he would start. Nabokov was optimistic about making his first start at the HP Pavilion since Feb. 21.
"It felt good," he said about his practice session. "Health wise, it's 100 percent."
Nabokov was 4-1-0 with a shutout leading up to the injury. He is 13-5-1 at home in his career against the Kings, with two wins in two games against them there this season. Boucher, meanwhile, also has two wins this season against Los Angeles - both on the road - including a shutout on Oct. 12.
The Sharks have needed strong goaltending with their offense struggling. They've averaged just 1.9 goals since Feb. 23, and have scored one goal in three of their last five games.
Devin Setoguchi has no goals and one point in his last eight contests while Ryane Clowe has been limited to one goal in his past nine games.
"We've got to work on a couple of things and (when we do), we'll come out a better team," coach Todd McLellan said.
San Jose is 26-3-4 at home this season, but has a regulation and overtime loss in its last two games at the HP Pavilion. It hasn't dropped three straight there since an 0-3-2 skid Dec. 15-Jan. 3, 2008.
Facing the Kings (29-29-9) could help the Sharks get back on track. San Jose is 15-4-1 at home in the series since April 13, 2002.
The Kings had their three-game winning streak snapped Friday with a 4-2 loss at Vancouver.
Los Angeles was outshot 20-3 in the first period and trailed 2-0 after 20 minutes. Alex Frolov and Anze Kopitar each scored in the third period to tie the game, but Jon Quick gave up two goals to Henrik Sedin within 30 seconds of each other.
The Kings, losers of five straight on the road, are 13th in the West with 67 points - five behind Edmonton and Dallas, which are tied for the final two playoff spots. They play 11 of their final 15 games away from home, beginning Saturday.
"We addressed the intensity and the need to know that everything is on the line for us if we want to keep ourselves in the hunt," coach Terry Murray said.
Kopitar, who extended his point streak to six games Friday, is looking for his first point against the Sharks this season. He has five goals and four assists in his last six games overall.