Nabokov stopped 31 shots for his third straight victory, and the
San Jose Sharks scored two power-play goals in a 3-2 win over the
New York Islanders on Thursday night.
Coach Darryl Sutter has noticed that everything from the Sharks'
special teams play to their overall aggressiveness improves when
Nabokov is playing at his seemingly effortless best.
Even when New York cut a three-goal lead to one in the closing
minutes, the Sharks never appeared worried.
Nabokov, who stopped 38 shots in an overtime shutout victory
over Colorado on Tuesday, showed he's back on his game after a
seven-game winless slide in which he was pulled twice.
"He's been playing great as of late, and we've played a lot
better in front of him," Mike Ricci said. "When he's playing like
that, he makes so many big saves that you almost don't notice it.
We left him to make a few too many big saves, but he loves that. He
thrives on that."
Ricci and Mike Rathje scored on the power play, while Marco
Sturm extended his points streak to four games with a goal as the
Sharks rebounded from consecutive home losses with a solid victory
over the Islanders. Niklas Sundstrom had two assists for San Jose,
which held New York scoreless on four power plays.
After the Sharks opened a 3-0 lead, Islanders captain Mike Peca
scored late in the second period. Dick Tarnstrom pulled New York
within 3-2 with 7:33 to play on his first NHL goal, but Nabokov
weathered a flurry of shots in the final minutes. The Isles outshot
San Jose 15-2 in the third period.
The Sharks' win was tempered by the postgame discovery that
defenseman Shawn Heins' jaw was broken during a second-period fight
with Isles enforcer Jim Cummins, who sparked his new team to a
strong finish in his first game with New York since arriving in a
trade with Anaheim on Monday.
Cummins pulled Heins' jersey over his head and hit Heins at
least twice in the face while the San Jose defenseman couldn't see.
"When (Heins) left the game, they started coming hard, because
we only had five defensemen left," Nabokov said. "But we did a
really good job of dumping the puck out and slowing down the game a
It could be a month until Heins is ready to play again, and the
Sharks already were thin on defense without Marcus Ragnarsson, who
missed his fifth straight game with a broken finger.
"We let two points slip by tonight," Islanders coach Peter
Laviolette said. "We couldn't beat their goaltender, but we held a
high-scoring team to just 18 shots."
While All-Star starters Owen Nolan, Teemu Selanne and Vincent
Damphousse remained inconsistent offensively, the Sharks maintained
their lead in the Pacific Division with another outstanding game
from the line of Ricci, Sundstrom and Scott Thornton.
Though none of the line's members has been known as a big-time
NHL scorer, their chemistry has turned all three into consistent
scoring threats. They've combined for 81 points this season.
Damphousse hasn't scored a goal in 17 games, while Selanne has
just two goals in 14 games.
Ricci got the first goal late in the first period when he
stuffed his own rebound through Chris Osgood's legs. Rathje put the
Sharks up 2-0 with a slow wrist shot from the blue line that got
through a screen and past Osgood, who made 15 saves while losing
for the fourth time in five starts.
"It was a total disappointment not to play well when they
didn't play aggressively at first," Peca said. "We had an
opportunity to win, and we didn't take it."
Sturm charged the net for his 14th goal of the season less than
four minutes after Rathje's goal. Sturm already is closing in on
his career high of 16 goals in the 1998-99 season.
An arbitration hearing next week will determine whether
Nabokov, a Kazakhstan native, may play for Russia in the Olympics.
... Veteran forward Kip Miller, signed by the Islanders on
Wednesday, saw time on the power play. ... Rathje, who didn't score
a goal in 81 games last season, has two goals in 18 games this
season. ... Since Dec. 7, the Islanders have won just one game in
which they scored fewer than three goals.