SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose Sharks knocked off their All-Star break rust shortly after the puck dropped Tuesday night at HP Pavilion and made quick work of struggling Columbus, blasting the Blue Jackets 6-0.
Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi notched his second straight and fourth overall shutout, stopping all 30 shots he faced.
Niemi had plenty of help from his teammates, especially a trio of defensemen playing in milestone games Tuesday night. Dan Boyle played his 800th career NHL game, Brent Burns his 500th and Douglas Murray, who has spent his entire NHL career as a Shark, his 400th.
According to the Sharks, Columbus forward Jared Boll deserves an assist for their big win. Just 20 seconds into the game, Boll elbowed Thornton in the head, drawing a two-minute penalty and delivering an early wake-up call to the Sharks.
"Everybody wakes up," Thornton said. "You saw (Jim Vandermeer) fight a couple of times after that. You get more into the game. Gives the group a wakeup call. It was a good hit to take. Get the two points and move on."
The Sharks improved to 28-14-6 and increased their lead over idle Los Angeles in the Pacific Division to four points.
The Blue Jackets lost their fifth straight game, fell to 13-31-6 and remained stuck on a League-low 32 points.
San Jose beat Columbus 2-1 in each of their previous two games this season, with Sharks backup goalie Thomas Greiss beating Curtis Sanford both times. This time Niemi squared off against Steve Mason, who played in his 200th NHL game but fell to 5-19-2 in a game he'd rather forget. He faced 43 shots, stopping 37.
The Sharks came out firing Tuesday, outshooting Columbus 18-11 in the first period. Marleau gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 7:53 of the first with his 18th goal of the season. Defenseman Justin Braun blasted a shot from above the right circle that Mason stopped, but couldn't control. Marleau got to the rebound right of the crease and knocked it home.
Less than two minutes later, Thornton made it 2-0 with an unassisted goal. Thornton intercepted a pass from Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin in the Columbus zone, and quickly fired a shot at Mason. Mason blocked that shot, too, but once again he couldn't control the rebound, and Thornton made him pay, scoring from left of the crease.
"You give that team a two-goal lead in the first period and you can’t expect to come back," Boll said. "We need a better effort."
The game turned chippy early in the first period, with Boll in the middle of much of the action. Boll spent two minutes in the box for his hit to Thornton's head early in the first. Boll and Vandermeer traded multiple punches and earned five minutes apiece in the penalty box at 7:55. Later in the period, Murray delivered a hit to Boll, and Boll answered.
Boll and Vandermeer fought again in the third, and Boyle had a rare fight, with Derick Brassard, along with a 10-minute misconduct penalty. Then twice late in the third, multiple fights broke out, leaving the ice was littered with gloves and sticks.
"They had a big hit on one of our big guys. We won't stand for that," Vandermeer said.
Boyle said he gets into a fight about "once every two years," but even he got caught up in the emotions of a very physical game.
"When I was younger I used to do it a little bit more," said Boyle, an icepack on his right hand. "I'm too old for that now. That's not part of my game anymore. … It was kind of an emotional late third there. A lot of guys stuck together. Sometimes it's good for the team to show that bond and we did that."
The Blue Jackets wound up taking 10 penalties for a combined 43 minutes, with Aaron Johnson earning a 10-minute misconduct. The Sharks had nine penalties for 49 minutes with Boyle and John McCarthy earning misconducts.
"Clearly you can see the guys who care and want to make a difference," Blue Jackets interim coach Todd Richards said. "Sometimes you just react to different situations. You could clearly see (Derek) Dorsett coming down the ice and seeing a water bottle being sprayed at him from the San Jose bench. I don't know if that's what set him off, but things erupted. We got some emotion, but we need to get that emotion going from the start.
"There were moments we played well in the offensive zone, but three of those goals were self-inflicted. We had control of the puck and they took it away from us and scored. We made it harder on ourselves with poor puck management. Clearly we were not good enough tonight. Not enough guys doing the right things for us to have success."
Pavelski took a long pass from Logan Couture and scored a power play goal on a slap shot from just inside the blue line at 4:56 of the second, putting San Jose ahead 3-0. Earlier in the power play, Blue Jackets forward Derek MacKenzie broke his stick while blocking a shot. MacKenzie was still stuck on the ice without a stick when Pavelski ricocheted the puck off him and past Mason.
McGinn made it 4-0 at 16:55 of the second when he knocked in yet another rebound that beat Mason. It was McGinn's 10th goal of the season, tying his career high. Handzus made it 5-0 at 1:54 in the third, scoring from short range after McGinn's shot bounced off Mason.
Thornton capped the scoring at 10:54 of the third, long after he had taken one for the team 20 seconds into the game.
"It created a lot of emotion in the game," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the hit to Thornton's head. "I think as a coach, you're always worried about whether the guys will be sleepy and what will trigger the game, and 30 seconds in guys are on their toes already with the play. So that was a good thing for us. It's not great that Jumbo got an elbow to the head, but it did wake our group up and we played after that."
The Sharks had lost three of their past four games before facing Columbus, the lone win a 1-0 victory at Calgary in the final game before the break. In three of those four games, they scored just one goal. In their past eight games, they had scored more than two goals just twice and never scored more than three.
The Sharks can only hope that their offensive outburst was a sign of things to come as they continue a rugged post-break homestretch of 35 games in 68 nights that includes a nine-game, 15-day road trip in February and a franchise record 19 games in March.
With his father, Veikko, watching him play an NHL game in person for the first time, Niemi earned the shutout, with help from Burns in the final minutes. Burns dove and knocked the puck away, killing a likely Blue Jackets breakaway.
"He likes to do those last-second saves with the long stick," Niemi said. "It looked like it was going to be a breakaway, but he was able to skate back in it."
The Sharks had their highest scoring output in weeks despite still being without forward Ryane Clowe, who skated Tuesday morning but missed his sixth straight game with a facial fracture. He hopes to play Thursday against Dallas. San Jose defenseman Jason Demers missed the game with a lower body injury, but Burns returned after missing one game after a knee-on-knee collision at Edmonton.
Forward John McCarthy was recalled from Worcester of the AHL and was on the fourth line. For the second straight game, the Sharks suited up seven defensemen, but one of them, Vandermeer, played again on the fourth line.
Blue Jackets defenseman Marc Methot missed the game with the flu, and David Savard, called up Monday from Springfield of the AHL, took his place in the lineup.
The Blue Jackets have little time to recover from Tuesday night's loss. They face the Kings in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, and Sanford will be in goal.