UNIONDALE , N.Y. -- Longevity and durability are two of Evgeni Nabokov's biggest assets. Both were on display Saturday night.
Playing in his 500th NHL game, the 34-year-old kept his San Jose Sharks in it early on and finished with a 31-save effort en route to a 4-1 victory against the still-winless New York Islanders (0-3-3) at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"I didn't even know," Nabokov said of the milestone. "I think the most important thing is we got the win."
Nabokov, who has played all 500 games with the Sharks and earned career win No. 253, was forced to make 18 saves in the first period while his teammates appeared to be comatose. San Jose (4-3-1) found its legs in the second behind a pair of assists from Joe Thornton, who then scored early in the third to pace the Sharks to a 3-1 lead.
But the only reason why the Sharks even had a chance to rally was the play of their goaltender -- and they knew it. Such skill is one of the main reasons why Nabokov has been a mainstay in San Jose for a decade.
"A goaltender with that many games, it speaks volumes," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "He's a competitive individual. He's been able to work on his game. I think last year, as the year went on, he worked on it and then realized after playoffs that there were some things that he needed to do, and he's done a tremendous job of it. We're proud to say that he's been a Shark for 500 games."
Matt Moulson opened the scoring for the Isles with a power-play goal at 15:12 of the first period. Less than a minute after Sharks forward Jody Shelley was called for interference, John Tavares made a nifty pass to Kyle Okposo in the slot. Okposo ripped a one-timer that went off Moulson's leg and past Nabokov for his team-leading fourth goal of the season. With an assist, Okposo extended his point streak to six games.
"We came out kind of a little bit slow," Nabokov said. "I don't know what the reason was, but we picked it up. I knew that I had to be there for them to make the saves. That's what I'm there for."
It was the lone goal of the first period that saw the Islanders outshoot San Jose 19-8.
"In the first period we were playing with a lot of pace, and that pace resulted in good transition," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said.
The Islanders buzzed the San Jose net for the rest of the period, and McLellan knew his goaltender was the only reason the Sharks trailed by only one goal at intermission.
"In the first period, he was obviously the difference," McLellan said of Nabokov. "He made a lot of saves -- a lot of second opportunities. He was real solid."
The Sharks tied the game on Patrick Marleau's power-play goal 7:50 into the second period. After Brendan Witt was whistled for interference, Marleau took a pass from Thornton and backhanded it from the slot past Martin Biron for his sixth of the season.
Long Island native Ryan Vesce put San Jose in front with his first NHL goal at 16:24 of the second period. After Isles' defenseman Radek Martinek coughed up the puck behind his own net, Thornton sent it out in front to Vesce, and the 27-year-old poked it past Biron to give San Jose its first lead of the night.
The Sharks outshot the Isles 12-5 in the second period, helping erase that abysmal first.
"I wish I knew what I said," McLellan joked of his first-intermission address. "We were about as flat as flat can be. I didn't yell and scream … they've hurt my voice too much lately."
A holding penalty on Jack Hillen in the final seconds of the second cost the Islanders dearly at the start of the third, as Thornton gave San Jose a 3-1 lead on the ensuing power play just 37 seconds into the period. With the Sharks buzzing in the Isles' zone, Thornton took a pass from Dan Boyle and rifled a slap shot through a crowd and past Biron for his second goal of the season.
"We allowed their guys to maintain the play," said Biron, who made 25 saves. "In the first period, they took the penalties and we were skating. You give that talent they've got those two opportunities, they're not going to miss a whole lot."
Devin Setoguchi put the game away with 6:05 remaining. After Mark Streit coughed up the puck to Ryane Clowe in the corner, Setoguchi skated right around Freddy Meyer with the puck and flipped it past Biron to make it 4-1. It was his fifth goal of the season.
"You can't take a shift off, let alone a period off against a team like that with the players they got," Moulson said. "It killed us in the end."
San Jose allowed only 13 shots on goal over the final 40 minutes as a way of thanking its world-class goaltender. Watching him perform on Saturday night, it's no wonder why Nabokov lasted as long as he has -- and why he's never been shown the door by Sharks brass.
"I guess while you're playing, you appreciate what you have," Nabokov said of his ability to stay with one team throughout his career. "I think all those little things, once you retire, then you'll look back and you'll appreciate everything. Right now, you just concentrate on doing your job. All I can say is that it's a great organization. It always has a high expectation and in the last six or seven years, it's been built right. It's a pleasure to play for this organization."
-- Brian Compton, NHL.com
|PPG - Matt Moulson (4) ASST: Kyle Okposo (5), John Tavares (4)|
1 - 0 NYI
|PPG - Patrick Marleau (6) ASST: Joe Thornton (10), Jason Demers (4)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Ryan Vesce (1) ASST: Joe Thornton (11)|
2 - 1 SJS
|PPG - Joe Thornton (2) ASST: Dan Boyle (6), Jason Demers (5)|
3 - 1 SJS
|Devin Setoguchi (5) ASST: Ryane Clowe (1)|
4 - 1 SJS
|Jody Shelley Interference against Josh Bailey|
|John Tavares Cross checking against Devin Setoguchi|
|Ryane Clowe Roughing against Brendan Witt|
|Rob Blake Interference against Kyle Okposo|
|Jed Ortmeyer Diving against Radek Martinek|
|Radek Martinek Interference against Scott Nichol|
|Brendan Witt Interference against Jed Ortmeyer|
|Scott Nichol Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Jack Hillen Holding against Joe Thornton|
|Tim Jackman Fighting (maj) against Ryane Clowe|
|Ryane Clowe Fighting (maj) against Tim Jackman|
|Brendan Witt Boarding against Devin Setoguchi|