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Islanders' Nabokov to face Sharks for first time

by John Kreiser

SHARKS (43-17-7) at ISLANDERS (25-33-9)


Last 10: San Jose 8-1-1; New York 4-5-1

Season series: The New York Islanders are going for a sweep of the San Jose Sharks, who are making their first visit to Nassau Coliseum since Oct. 29, 2011. The Islanders rallied from a two-goal deficit for a 3-2 shootout victory at SAP Center on Dec. 10.

Big story: The Sharks have spent most of the season chasing the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division lead. They come to Long Island even with 93 points after a 4-3 shootout victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night in the opener of a quick three-game East Coast trip, though the Ducks are still on top because they have a game in hand. The Islanders begin a four-game homestand after a 2-1-1 road trip that ended with a stunning 7-4 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday.

The Sharks will face their longtime goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov, for the first time since he left San Jose after the 2009-10 season to play in Russia. Nabokov returned to the NHL and has spent the past three seasons with the Islanders.

Team Scope:

Sharks: If San Jose finishes first, one major reason will be its success in shootouts. The Sharks won their League-leading 10th tiebreaker when Alex Stalock stopped all three Columbus attempts and Joe Pavelski scored in the second round.

Stalock, who figures to sit in favor of No. 1 goalie Antti Niemi against the Islanders, has stopped all 10 shootout attempts he's faced this season.

"One-on-one anytime is fun," he said after improving to 3-0 in shootouts this season. "It's a contest, a competition. Whether it's practice or a game, it's fun."

Many of the current Sharks were teammates of Nabokov, who is still the winningest goaltender in franchise history.

"He means a lot to the organization," Pavelski said. "I liked him as a goalie, I liked him as a guy. I’m excited to have a chance to finally play against him.

"He was great when he was there and he’s been really good for this organization coming in and stabilizing that position. At times it wasn’t always consistent, but as the team got better I think he was a factor."

Islanders: New York had three days off to enjoy one of the most incredible victories in the NHL this season. The Islanders trailed 3-0 after two periods against the Canucks in the finale of a four-game road trip, but matched an NHL record for road teams by scoring seven times in the third period.

The goals were scored by seven different players. The sixth goal came off the stick of rookie Anders Lee, who continues to impress in his first sustained chance at an NHL job. Lee, who was called up after the NHL resumed play following the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, has five goals and two assists in seven games. With Michael Grabner sidelined due to injury, Lee is expected to be promoted to the top line with center Frans Nielsen and right wing Kyle Okposo.

Lee, a sixth-round pick by the Islanders at the 2009 NHL Draft, turned pro last spring after excelling at Notre Dame for three seasons. He had 22 goals and 41 points with Bridgeport of the American Hockey League before his recall.

"Every game, it gets better, the game slows down a little bit, and you kind of learn the nuances at the highest level and just try to keep going from there," he told Newsday. "Coming out of college you've got to pick up your speed and your game and your quickness. I've tried to do that as much as possible and I think it's helped me out a lot."

Rookie forward Johan Sundstrom will make his NHL debut on a line with center Casey Cizikas and Mike Halmo, another recent call-up from Bridgeport of the AHL.

Who's hot: Sharks left wing Patrick Marleau has three goals and four points in his past three games. He extended his franchise record for multigoal games to 60 by scoring twice in Columbus. … Okposo had three assists in the victory at Vancouver and has career-highs for goals (26) and points (65).

Injury report: Sharks left wing Raffi Torres (knee) missed both of San Jose's games this week. Defenseman Brad Stuart (upper body) and forward Tomas Hertl (knee) are out. … In addition to Grabner (concussion), the Islanders are without star center John Tavares (season-ending knee injury).

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