The winningest goaltender in San Jose Sharks history couldn't slow down his old team Friday.
The Sharks won their fifth in a row by defeating the New York Islanders 4-3 in their first game against Evgeni Nabokov, who won 293 games for San Jose from 1999-2010. Matt Nieto, Jason Demers, Joe Thornton and Marty Havlat each had a goal for the Sharks, and Antti Niemi, who succeeded Nabokov as the starting goaltender in 2010, made 35 saves.
"Nabby was a great teammate and one of the best goalies in Sharks history," said Thornton, who played with Nabokov for nearly five seasons, told CSN California. "He's a great teammate and a great friend, but I was glad to score on him," he added with a smile.
There weren't many smiles in the Islanders dressing room.
"They're experienced and they're disciplined, that's the bottom line," said Nabokov, who made 563 appearances in 10 seasons with San Jose. "I thought we played well, but they're not an easy team to play against."
San Jose (44-17-7), which defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 on Thursday, are even in points with the Anaheim Ducks in the race for first place in the Pacific Division but have played one more game. The Ducks beat the Colorado Avalanche 6-4 Friday nigtht.
"When you win two in a row, two days in a row, it's special," Thornton said. "We're a confident group right now, we're relying on each other, we're working extremely hard for each other. We feel if we play our game we can beat anybody, and that's a good feeling to have."
The Sharks are getting production from all four lines, something coach Todd McLellan said is key as the season enters the final weeks.
"We're able to play four lines and get contributions from everybody," he said. "We like where we're at, but we're not satisfied."
The Islanders (25-35-9), last in the Metropolitan Division, got goals from Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Frans Nielsen but fell to 9-17-8 at Nassau Coliseum, the poorest home record in the NHL. Nabokov made 22 saves but was victimized by defensive misplays and coverage errors.
"We played a pretty decent game," said Islanders forward Kyle Okposo, who had two assists. "We had a couple of breakdowns. We need a little bit extra."
The Sharks, who entered the game with an NHL-leading 67 first-period goals, scored twice in the opening 20 minutes after a slow start that saw the Islanders take seven of the game's first eight shots.
Nieto took advantage of poor coverage by the Islanders to open the scoring at 13:27. He was left alone between the hash marks and snapped Logan Couture's pass off Nabokov's right pad into the net for his 10th goal of the season.
"It took us probably 10 minutes to get our legs," McLellan said. "We were slow. We weren't executing. We weren't really engaged. [Niemi] gave us a chance to stay in it, and getting the lead was important for us tonight."
Demers made it 2-0 at 14:46, taking a slick pass from Havlat and whipping a wide-angle shot from the lower right circle into a half-empty net.
"They’ve got a lot of skill," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "You could see early on; a little bit of a breakdown and it's in the back of your net. They move the puck and execute extremely well. A couple of our young guys made mistakes that they've got to correct in the [defensive] zone, but we worked hard tonight."
Lee, one of eight rookies in the Islanders lineup, made it 2-1 32 seconds into the second period by scoring his sixth goal in eight games since being called up from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League. Lee took a pass from Nielsen in the slot and whipped a backhand that hit Niemi and trickled into the net. Lee has seven goals in 10 NHL games.
The Sharks regained a two-goal lead at 9:32 by taking advantage of a giveaway by Matt Donovan. Brent Burns knocked down the rookie defenseman's clearing attempts near the top of the right circle and fired a slap shot that Nabokov stopped. Thornton put the rebound into a wide-open net for his 10th goal of the season.
The Islanders are last in the NHL in goals allowed, and the defensive mistakes are leaving Capuano frustrated.
"There's learning there and they're learning the tough way," he said. "You could see that in a couple of the goals against tonight. I am a little surprised that, at times, we give up a limited number of chances but they end up in the back of our net."
Donovan helped to make amends at 17:02, firing a perfect shot-pass that Nelson was able to deflect from between the circles past Niemi for his 12th of the season. Havlat restored the Sharks' two-goal lead 73 seconds later, whipping a shot from just below the left faceoff dot past Nabokov's glove and inside the right post.
The Islanders didn't generate a lot of offense in the third period until the final two minutes, when they pulled Nabokov for an extra skater. Nielsen made it 4-3 with 21.4 seconds left by sliding a backhand past Niemi, but the Islanders didn't get another shot on goal.
The Sharks complete a three-game trip with a visit to the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon. It's the first game between the teams since the Sharks routed the Rangers 9-2 in San Jose on Oct. 8, when rookie Tomas Hertl scored four goals.
"I don't know what the retribution would be," McLellan said. "We had a real good night; anything we did went our way and basically anything they did didn't go their way. There was no intent to run up the score. It will be a hard game."
Material from team media was used in this report