UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- For nine-plus seasons, the Sharks launched puck after puck at goalie Evgeni Nabokov. They called it practice.

Friday night those shots all mattered as San Jose faced the man who holds the bulk of all franchise goaltending records for the first time since parting ways in July 2010. Nabokov stopped 22 of those shots, but four got past him and the Sharks left Nassau Coliseum with a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders.

"It was definitely weird seeing him on the other side, but we'll take the two points," said Joe Thornton, who scored San Jose's third goal. "It's fun playing against ex-teammates and you don't play against ex-goalies too often because they seem to stick around for a long time."

Nabokov expressed a similar sentiment.

"I'm not going to lie," he said. "It was a little bit different in the first probably 10 minutes, After that, it was just another game, but in the beginning it was little bit different, a little bit weird."

The win was San Jose's fifth in a row, kept the Sharks tied for the Pacific Division lead and improved the team's record to 7-1-1 since the Olympic break. Antti Niemi, who ended up inheriting Nabokov's job when the Sharks decided not to offer him a contract extension in July 2010, made 35 saves to earn his 33rd win of the season.

The Sharks' goals came from Matt Nieto, Jason Demers and Marty Havlat in addition to Thornton, while Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Frans Nielsen scored for the Islanders.

Nieto is a rookie and never shared a locker room with Nabokov. But he, too, got caught up in the history.

"I think all the guys that played with him wanted to score against him," Nieto said. "Everyone was shooting the puck tonight."

Nabokov didn't talk before the game about facing the Sharks, but the tug of his first NHL team is still there. Friday morning, he stopped by the visiting team's rooms to see his former teammates and the San Jose coaching staff.

The teams had met twice since Nabokov moved on, but both times he was sidelined by an injury.

Goalie connection aside, Sharks coach Todd McLellan expressed pre-game concern about facing an Eastern Conference bottom-dweller that already had won in San Jose this season.

"We're well aware some of the non-playoff teams we've played against, we haven't had success with," McLellan said. "We're hoping to change that tonight."

After the win, McLellan was still critical of his team's play early in the first and second periods. But he liked the fact he was getting contributions from everybody in the second half of a back-to-back.

Nieto gave San Jose a 1-0 lead when he took a pass from Logan Couture from behind the net and found a hole between Nabokov and the post at 13:27.

Sixty-nine seconds later, Demers pinched into the right circle to take a feed from Havlat that the Islanders goalie had no chance on.

The Islanders needed just 32 seconds of the second period to cut into that 2-0 margin when Lee's backhand shot got past Niemi, but Thornton potted a rebound of a shot by Bret Burns at 9:32 to make it 3-1.

New York again made it a one-goal game at 17:02 of the second on a deflection by Nelson, but James Sheppard set up Havlat for his second goal in the last three games and the period ended with San Jose ahead 4-2.

That's where the score stood until Islanders coach Jack Capuano pulled Nabokov with 1:58 left, and it paid off with a goal by Nielsen with 22 seconds left.

  • Raffi Torres missed a third straight game with soreness, but McLellan said he was hopeful Torres would be able to play Sunday against the New York Rangers. Tyler Kennedy returned to the lineup after missing two games while Mike Brown was a scratch.

    SUNDAY'S GAME
    Sharks (44-17-7) at N.Y. Rangers (36-28-4), 1 p.m. CSNCA