SAN JOSE, Calif. - When the San Jose Sharks finally shake their injury problems, Patrick Marleau will rejoin Joe Thornton on what was the NHL's most fearsome scoring line earlier this season.
Until then, Marleau and Thornton are doing just fine as the centre of attention on their own lines. Marleau scored his 33rd goal and Thornton had two assists as San Jose earned its NHL-best 25th home victory, 4-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic had the go-ahead goal and an assist for the Sharks, who maintained their Western Conference lead over Detroit with another workmanlike win at the Tank after going 1-1-3 on a recent road trip. Evgeni Nabokov made 30 saves in his 30th victory of the season, while Lukas Kaspar and Milan Michalek also scored - and Claude Lemieux got his first NHL point in 2,174 days.
Even after the injury-mandated breakup of the Marleau-Thornton-Devin Setoguchi line, San Jose's offence is still among the league's most consistent. The Sharks have 24 goals in the last six games and 196 on the season, more than any Western team except the Red Wings.
Marleau had been a centre for nearly all of his career until new coach Todd McLellan put him on the left wing next to Thornton, the former NHL scoring champion and MVP. Even after moving to the Sharks' nominal third line, Marleau has kept rolling with seven goals and three assists in the last six games.
"Playing our system, you could end up anywhere," said the San Jose captain, whose 33 goals are one shy of his career high. "I still get a chance to play on the power play with those guys. ... We're all kind of interchangeable. You know where everybody is going to be at, and that makes it a lot easier to switch around when we do."
Marleau scored late in the first period, converting on his third whack at the puck while standing unchecked in Erik Ersberg's crease.
Longtime Kings defenceman Rob Blake had two assists for the Sharks, who improved the NHL's best home record to 25-2-3 by holding Los Angeles scoreless in the final 36 minutes. Although San Jose has a cavernous 22-point lead over Dallas in the Pacific Division standings, Blake realizes it's several weeks too early to coast into the playoffs.
"These are teams that are fighting to get in and fighting for playoff spots," Blake said. "We want to compete at that level, so it's good for us to play this way."
Marleau and Thornton are just two of several Sharks who have altered their games to make up for their teammates' absences. Brad Lukowich, Jeremy Roenick and Tomas Plihal are nearly ready to return from injuries, so San Jose could get even tougher in the next few days - just in time for a key four-game road trip next week.
"The Sharks have such great overall depth," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "It has everything to do with depth, and they are a great hockey team. They are set the right way to walk through everything in the playoffs. To me, they look that good. There are a tough team for any team to face."
Michal Handzus and Alexander Frolov scored for the Kings, who lost on the road for just the second time in their last nine games. Surging Los Angeles lost in regulation for just the third time in a month, dropping its third straight in San Jose.
Ersberg stopped 36 shots for the Kings, who are 11th in the conference standings, three points behind eighth-place Edmonton. The Kings won 4-3 at Anaheim one night earlier, and are still in the thick of the playoff race despite failing to mount many notable scoring chances in the third period against the Sharks.
"I don't think we played as good as we did last night," Los Angeles centre Anze Kopitar said. "We didn't compete hard, we didn't win one-on-one battles, and that's the result of the game. We're fighting for a playoff position right now, and we're desperate for points. We need to play with a lot of energy every night. We can't look for excuses at this time of the year."
A few minutes after Vlasic's go-ahead goal, Michalek doubled the Sharks' lead late in the second period with a one-timer off an exceptional pass from behind the net by Joe Pavelski, whose four-game goal-scoring streak ended.
Lemieux, in his 12th game for San Jose, got the secondary assist on Michalek's goal for his first point since returning to the NHL from a 5 1/2-year retirement. Lemieux picked up the first 15 penalty minutes of his comeback two nights earlier against Edmonton.
Notes: Lemieux's assist was his first since March 9, 2003, when he played for the Dallas Stars against San Jose. ... The Kings host Phoenix on Saturday before heading out on a five-game road trip, while the Sharks host Atlanta before their next trip, which ends in eastern Canada. ... Nabokov is second in the league in victories, trailing only Calgary workhorse Miikka Kiprusoff, despite missing nearly three weeks with a lower-body injury in November.