LOS ANGELES - However Patrick Marleau looks at the Sharks' last two games, he can't come up with many ways they could play much better - and that two-game stretch of near-perfection has put San Jose back on top of the NHL.
Marleau and Ryane Clowe scored two goals apiece, and the Sharks completed a remarkable two-day scoring barrage with a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night.
A day after San Jose demolished the Calgary Flames in a 9-1 victory at the Shark Tank, Marleau led the Sharks to three first-period goals and an easy win over their Pacific Division rivals. Dan Boyle added a goal and two assists in their 14th win in 17 games.
When asked if the Sharks had played to their full potential in the past 27 hours, Marleau barely bothered to equivocate.
"I think it's close," the NHL's leading goal-scorer said. "Maybe last night was a little better than tonight."
The Sharks made two Western Conference playoff contenders look like pretenders with an energized power play that scored five goals to supplement perfect penalty-killing. Even goalie Evgeni Nabokov was almost flawless, making 36 saves against the Kings.
"Everyone is going hard right now," said Clowe, who had his first multigoal game of the season. "That's why we're having so much success. We've got everyone firing on all cylinders. Nobody had a night off. We expect to get everyone's best this season, and that's going to continue down the stretch."
The Sharks' victory, coupled with Chicago's 4-1 loss to Ottawa, put San Jose alone atop the overall NHL standings with 74 points through 51 games. Of course, Team Teal also won last season's Presidents' Trophy, only to lose its first-round playoff series to Anaheim.
Marleau, who relinquished his Sharks captaincy this season, looks remarkably quick and comfortable without that "C" on his shoulder weighing him down. After not being among the Sharks' eight goal-scorers in that big win over Calgary, he bumped his goal total to 34 - two more than Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, who also scored two goals earlier Tuesday.
Joe Pavelski had two assists and Boyle had his first three-point game since Oct. 8 in the Sharks' second straight win over Los Angeles to wrap up the clubs' six-game regular-season series.
"I think we might play a little better, at least a little smarter, when we're tired," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We just seem to simplify the game. ... When you're scoring 14 goals in two games, there's no way only one line is going to carry that load. I thought for the most part, our (second, third and fourth) lines were really sharp tonight. We expect a push from them, and they had a real strong one."
Wayne Simmonds scored for the Kings, who lost for the fourth time during six straight home games, including two home losses to San Jose in nine days. Jonathan Quick stopped 19 shots for Los Angeles, which finishes its seven-game homestand Thursday against Buffalo.
"We didn't come out with the right focus for whatever reason in the first period," Kings defenceman Sean O'Donnell said. "You can say we came back ... but no team plays with the same intensity when they have a three-goal lead. We need to come out the way we started the second (period) at the start of the game. For whatever reason, we like to see what kind of game it is going to be before we start to play."
The homestand hasn't been helpful to the Kings' hopes of earning their first playoff berth since 2002: They've won just twice, needing a late rally to beat the Boston Bruins in a shootout last Saturday.
"They're a better team than we are," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "They've lost two in regulation in their last 17 games. They're just playing better than we are, and they're probably playing the best hockey in the NHL."
Marleau scored during a power play less than 5½ minutes in, converting a behind-the-net feed from Pavelski. After San Jose killed off a 4-on-3 disadvantage, Boyle then came straight out of the penalty box, collected the puck and wired a mid-range shot past Quick on the stick side.
Clowe put the Sharks up 3-0 with 3:11 left in the first when Alexander Frolov allowed a clearing pass to go under his stick and straight to Jed Ortmeyer, who fed Clowe for his 12th goal.
"There's something we've got to be better at, whether it's the first five minutes (or) the first period," Murray said. "We have this one game left here at home now against Buffalo, and back on the road for five, so this is a critical point in the year. We have to get on board, and we need somebody to step up and lead the way here."
NOTES: Kings C Jarret Stoll played in his 400th NHL game. ... Simmonds has 16 points in his past 21 games. ... San Jose improved to 25-0-4 when leading after two periods. ... The Sharks scratched RW Brad Staubitz for the third time in four games.