Sharks

Sharks' forward Joe Thornton continues reaching career and NHL milestones

Sharks' forward Joe Thornton continues reaching career and NHL milestones

There’s no denying one of the big highlights of the San Jose Sharks’ season thus far was Joe Thornton scoring his 400th career goal. It was pure pandemonium as Marcus Sorensen’s dish landed right on No. 19’s stick and he flipped into the back of the net, sending both the players on the ice and the fans in their seats into a frenzy.

But the milestone tracker didn’t turn off there.

Viewers at home may have noticed it most times Thornton is shown on their TV screen. Fans attending games surely pay attention when he’s shown on the center-ice cube with a swanky stat next to his face – which is often followed by him looking up and cracking a smile.

Thornton is continuing to pave his path into the Hall of Fame, and we’re all just here to witness it.

Since tallying that 400-goal marker he’s continued to collect points and make his way up both the NHL’s all-time points list and assists lists. On November 23, his set up of Timo Meier’s power-play goal against the Vancouver Canucks helped him pass Mario Lemieux on the league’s all-time assists list. It also put him just 24 points out of reach of 15th on the all-time points list – a perch currently being occupied by another hockey great, Teemu Selanne.

This past Wednesday night against the Hurricanes, Thornton did it again. The set-up man extraordinaire collected three apples on the evening to register the 58th three-assists game of his career. To put into perspective how big of an accomplishment that is, Steve Yzerman and Jaromir Jagr each tallied 59 three-assist contests during their tenures in the league. 

The feat also tied Thornton for 10th with former Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic on the NHL’s all-time list for multi-assist games. Of course, the three markers also bring him to 1,037 career assists, just three behind Marcel Dionne at 10th place on the NHL all-time list.

With the rate at which he’s putting his mark of the game of hockey, it’s easy to forget how the season started for Jumbo Joe. He played just two regular season games at the start of the 2018-19 campaign before swelling in his surgically-repaired right knee sidelined him for a couple weeks. But the setback – added to the amount of recovery time he had to put in last season – never appeared to deter the 39-year-old forward from getting back to a place where he could help San Jose win.

In the days leading up to his return, Thornton was always one of the first skaters on the ice at Sharks practice, working with his teammates on his way to getting back into games.

“That’s a lot of recovery and rehab,” teammate Kevin Labanc told NBC Sports California after Thornton notched his 400th goal, “and for him to come back and be just as good as he is… It’s just incredible.”

What’s incredible still is that the 39-year-old forward is continuing to put that hard work to use night after night. And, night after night, he surpasses another milestone. With so much hockey still left this season, it’s anyone’s guess how quickly Thornton will reach his next milestone.

Sharks weren't perfect, but still happy to grind out win vs. Canucks

Sharks weren't perfect, but still happy to grind out win vs. Canucks

SAN JOSE – Some fans and spectators likely expected that the Sharks were going to steamroll the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night. And why not?

Just look at their matchups thus far this season.  San Jose shut Vancouver out 4-0 in November, and walloped on the Canucks' rookie goaltender less than a week ago to win 7-2.

However, the Sharks had a much tougher task at hand when the Canucks – who are in the hunt to snag a wild-card spot in the Western Conference – put up quite a fight on Saturday. But not only were the Sharks prepared for the game to be a little tougher, they were happy with how they buckled down to grind out a 3-2 win

“Every night, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you expect a pretty close game,” explained captain Joe Pavelski, who scored the Sharks’ game-winning goal. “A pretty hard-fought game. We knew they were going to come out with a little more energy. They’ve got some good skill over there.”

“They’re a scrappy team, they’re fighting for the playoff life and I thought they played that way," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer echoed. "I thought they played with a lot of energy and desperation. And that made it hard on us.”

That level of difficulty, though, is something DeBoer expects on a nightly basis down the stretch.

“We had to work for a win tonight and that’s how it should be,” he said.

Although Saturday might not have been the Sharks’ cleanest game, there was a noticeable fight in the way they played. Timo Meier, who scored San Jose’s first goal 3:45 into the game, added to that bite just two nights after the Sharks' loss to the Washington Capitals. 

“I think everybody battled, especially after the game we had against Washington,” the forward said. “It wasn’t an easy win for us tonight.”

That lack of ease was in part because of San Jose’s frequent trips to the penalty box. Although the penalty kill was a flawless 0-for-4, Vancouver had too many opportunities to swing the momentum back in its favor.

“We got caught in penalty trouble, so they got a little bit of momentum and they felt good playing with the puck,” Pavelski observed. “We were defending a lot in those situations.”

At the end of the night, though, the Sharks will happily take getting back in the win column. As the race for playoff positions in the West tightens up – and the jostle for first place between the Sharks and Calgary Flames becomes even more intense – this type of grind-it-out win will do.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in Erik Karlsson's return in win vs. Canucks

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in Erik Karlsson's return in win vs. Canucks

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – The Sharks and the Vancouver Canucks played a wacky one on Saturday night.

The puck was skipping, the sticks were breaking and it seemed like every time you turned your head another skater in teal was headed for the penalty box -- but we'll break that down later. After a back-and-forth first 45 minutes, San Jose captain Joe Pavelski scored the game-winning goal in the third period to give the Sharks the 3-2 victory.

Here are three takeaways as the Sharks get back in the win column:

So, about Erik Karlsson’s return …

There’s no way you can break down Saturday’s game without discussing it. Right from his first shift, it was apparent the Sharks knew what they were doing when they kept him out for nine games. Even before he set up Timo Meier’s power-play goal 3:45 into the first period, Karlsson was buzzed up and down the ice and made nifty no-look passes along the way.

He also showed his chops on the defensive side of the puck, helping to break up a couple of Vancouver’s plays. The Sharks may have won six straight games while he was injured, but there’s no denying how much he can contribute – even in his first game back.

The penalty kill came up big

It had to, because the Sharks headed to the penalty box at times that really could have crushed their momentum. But even though they had racked up five penalties through two periods, the kill continued its streak of dominance by shutting the Canucks power play down.

Martin Jones was a particularly big part of the kill, holding down the net as the Canucks tried to break through. He came up big on Meier’s first penalty in the second stanza, stopping young Vancouver forward Brock Boeser on a breakaway attempt.

Did you check out the shot clock?

For the second straight game, the Sharks were outshot by their opponent. Through the vast majority of the season, they’ve outshot their opponents in wins and losses. Hence, the reason they sit close to the stop of the league in shots per game.

It's no coincidence, then, that Saturday was the second straight game the Sharks were hemmed in their own zone and not as crisp breaking the puck out through the neutral zone, making it difficult to create much offense. While San Jose was able to get ahead and get the win, this is something the team likely wants to change quickly.