It’s been a while since we’ve seen Evgeni Nabokov. After finishing his long career with the Sharks, Nabby went back to Kazakhstan to regroup before returning to the NHL. Now he’s with the Islanders club that the Sharks handled 4-3 on Friday evening in New York. The goaltender missed opportunities to face his old team up to this point, but if he was hoping for a good showing in his long-awaited appearance against, he didn’t get it.
San Jose had already netted four goals on Nabokov by the close of the second period and not all of them were hard to earn. Following first period goals from Matt Nieto and Jason Demers, Nabby gave up his his most egregious score of the game: Brent Burns crashed the net and took a hard wrist shot that the goaltender drove way too far out of the crease to defend. The rebound skittered off of Nabokov and right to Joe Thornton, who was staring down a wide open net. Despite goals from Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Frans Nielsen, the Islanders couldn’t manage to bounce back from the former-Sharks netminder’s rough start.
Nieto’s goal wasn’t spectacular either, but Demers’s and Havlat’s goals were hard to stop. James Sheppard was in on both of them, with that line giving solid reason for optimism down the stretch. Top-six scoring has never been a big problem for San Jose, but depth and defensive scoring has been. Demers is now the leading scorer on the blue line with 31 points, which is really a nice surprise. Sheppard has nine points (1 goal, 8 assists) in his last 10 games. Bottom-six scoring, along with contributions from players like Havlat, could give the Sharks a playoff edge that they didn’t enjoy last season.
Antti Niemi continued to play good enough hockey following the pressure applied by Alex Stalock. In his starts since the Olympic break, Niemi is 4-1 and averaging just over two goals against per game. His largest blemish against the Islanders was Lee’s goal in the second period — again, a dribbler and one “he probably wishes he could have back.”
Now the Sharks have won five straight and they’ve leap-frogged the Ducks for first in the Pacific Division. With 95 points, they sit at second in the Western Conference and have the second-most points in the league. Only the St. Louis Blues stand in their way, and at this point in time, a Presidents’ Trophy isn’t out of the question. But then the Sharks have won that one before. It’s not what they’re looking for anymore.