Scott Thornton scored two goals and Evgeni Nabokov got his first win in nearly three weeks, leading the Sharks through a scoreless third period in a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.
Captain Patrick Marleau also scored for the Sharks, who rallied from an early 2-0 deficit for their third straight win. Though San Jose barely held off the injury-depleted Kings, who played without leading scorer Pavol Demitra, the victory was an important step for an inconsistent club still hoping for a surge toward playoff contention.
“This was a big one, because we all know what’s facing us in the standings and on the road trip,” said Scott Thornton, who had the 13th multigoal game of his lengthy career. “The Kings are probably the best team in the West, so it felt great to get a win before the stuff that’s coming up.”
Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles’ three-game winning streak was snapped by the last-place Sharks, who won the final three contests on a four-game homestand before an East Coast trip that begins with Joe Thornton’s return to Boston on Tuesday night.
“Joe’s just got to stay positive,” coach Ron Wilson said. “I’m sure they’ll try to turn it into some soap opera, which it isn’t. … It’ll be hard for Joe, I’m sure. I’m interested to see the fan reaction, that’s for sure. Joe’s going to have conflicted emotions, and hopefully we’ll play well around him.”
San Jose went ahead late in the second period with a set play from a faceoff leading to Scott Thornton’s goal from the top of the slot. The stoppable shot eluded Mathieu Garon, who made 22 saves.
“They have a great offense, and it showed,” Garon said. “They come hard at you. We knew even with our early lead that it wouldn’t be good enough. They have a great power play unit. We knew coming in that we couldn’t take too many penalties, or that would hurt us.”
Demitra missed his first game this season with an unspecified leg injury. He leads the club with 20 goals and 50 points, though Visnovsky passed him for the team lead in assists.
Visnovsky, who had a goal and an assist, is the NHL’s second-leading scorer among defensemen with 43 points, trailing only Toronto’s Bryan McCabe.
Nabokov stopped 27 shots in his first victory since Dec. 20. Backup Vesa Toskala made San Jose’s previous two starts after Nabokov hit an 0-3-1 slump, but Nabokov was back in form against the Kings.
“It’s been the usual for us to go down 5-on-3 lately, and we have to be careful, because it’s going to cost us,” Nabokov said. “I felt pretty good, but the penalties have to stop.”
Normally among the NHL’s most disciplined teams, the Sharks took nine penalties in their loss to the Kings last month, and they were hit with seven more in the rematch—but Los Angeles was just 1-of-7 on the power play, scoring only on a two-man advantage in the first period with Visnovsky’s blast from the point.
Just a moment after the second power play ended, Avery batted a rebound out of the air and past Nabokov for his 10th goal.
“They’re a good team, and they’re going to play hard, but I don’t think they took control,” Kings coach Andy Murray said of the Sharks. “We didn’t sit back all night. We went after them and played hard. I like our effort.”
Scott Thornton pulled the Sharks back within a goal by firing home the last of multiple rebounds late in the period. Marleau tied it with his 16th goal of the season on a power play midway through the second, shooting past Nils Ekman’s screen.
Sharks rookie D Josh Gorges got his first NHL point, assisting on Thornton’s second goal. … Jonathan Cheechoo had an assist, but his four-game goal-scoring streak ended. So did Ekman’s five-game points streak. … Kings C Craig Conroy assisted on Visnovsky’s goal, extending his scoring streak to eight games.