San Jose Sharks All-Star right wing Jonathan Cheechoo spoke with members of the media on an NHL conference call on Thursday morning. Cheechoo touched on topics like the Pacific Division race, the role of veteran leadership in the Sharks locker room and the team's spirited matchups with the Anaheim Ducks this season.
A complete transcript of Cheechoo's responses are below.
With a record of 36-20-1 for 73 points, the Sharks trail first place Anaheim by one point in the race for first place in the Pacific Division. In the middle of a season-long eight-game road trip, San Jose is in Columbus on Friday to meet the Blue Jackets. The Sharks will then travel to Dallas for a Sunday matinee that is part of regional action on the NHL on NBC.
Q. You finished off last year having a great season playing with Joe Thornton
and it seems like you’ve picked right up lately this season. How is it playing with Joe?
JONATHAN CHEECHOO: He loves to pass and I love to shoot. We fit together really well right off the start.
Q. It was there from the beginning, but now that you've played a year together, is it even for instinctive? Do you know where each other are even more than say that first month?
JONATHAN CHEECHOO: Yeah. I think it's easier, the way he plays, the style he plays down there, you know, you kind of know when I played that style with Mike Ricci, although we didn't produce the numbers that he does.
We play that type of style down along the boards working the puck. He's such a great passer, that if you get to the open spots he's going to find you.
Q. My last question is about your team in general. Would you say that your team has played their best at any point in this year, or you guys still have more to give?
JONATHAN CHEECHOO: I think we still have more to give. I think we've played good for stretches and we've played good for parts of games, but when we start to play a whole 60 minutes together and start to play well consistently, I think that's when you'll see our best hockey.
Q. Could you outline the injuries you've had this year. I know you missed a few games. And also, obviously you knew you probably weren't going to get 56 with all the increased attention. How much pressure has there been to sort of replicate last year?
JONATHAN CHEECHOO: I’ve had a few little minor injuries. It didn't start off well for me. I hurt my groin in preseason and I sprained my knee against Colorado in one of the games. That was basically it.
Those are just things that people are going to face in a season. Not any different than anyone else. There was a little bit of pressure, but for the most part the team, was very supportive of me and want me to continue to improve other parts of my game.
If I'm not scoring, they want me to be responsible defensively. That's something that kind of slipped this year. That's part of my game that I was disappointed in, but it's starting to get better the last couple months or so, and hopefully I'll just continue to improve that part.
Q. You guys have so many young players playing key roles on your team, something that you did last year. I was wondering, with those four guys contributing so much, this deep into the season do they still feel like rookies to you, or have they developed so quickly that you forget it's their first time around?
JONATHAN CHEECHOO: I think they've developed quickly, but I think a lot of that has to do with the veteran leadership that we have, too. We have great guys like Mike Grier, Curtis Brown that come out, and Kyle McLaren that help ease their transitions.
The guys have played some key roles for us. I don't think we really see them as rookies. We're almost three quarters the way through the season, so it's something where we expect them to do their job and come out and perform every night.
Q. Do you feel that you, with the year that you had last year and getting a little bit older, do you feel yourself creeping into that leadership category?
JONATHAN CHEECHOO: I'm sure I'll probably, you know, with the year I had last year probably get a few questions from some of the younger guys, you know, watching how I work and how I do things.
It's something where I want to come out and practice and show them that I have to work hard on my game, too just to keep it up.
Q. Two quick questions: First off, with the trade deadline creeping up, is there a sense of anticipation in the locker room that there might be a deal to be made?
JONATHAN CHEECHOO: I don't know. I don't think the guys worry too much about that. We just worry about playing our game and going out there and performing. If we perform, there's really nothing that needs to be done.
Q. And then the second question is: I'm sure by now it's probably old hat, but you guys are one of the teams in the league that trade between two goalies. Is there anything you have to do differently style wise depending on if Nabokov or Toskala is in the net?
JONATHAN CHEECHOO: No. You know, we know they're both solid goaltenders and they're going to give us a chance to win pretty much every night. It's something where we have confidence in both guys and don't have to change our style, which helps.
And, you know, not a lot of teams have that kind of one two combination. We're very lucky they both are very humble about the way they're sharing, I guess sharing the duties. You know, it's great to have team guys like that.
Q. Your team, the Sharks, obviously you went to the conference final the year before the lockout season. Last year I think the semifinals. Is there any feeling sometimes that there's only such a window of opportunity and you have to really take advantage, and this is the year that you folks have to take that next step?
JONATHAN CHEECHOO: Yeah. I think you see guys who have been to the Stanley Cup and then haven't been back. And you know I've played with a few of those guys. They tell you how hard it is to get there. I think it's something when you have a few months you have to take advantage of that. You've got to come out when the playoffs come around and be ready to perform, and everybody's got to hold their own fair share.
Q. What have the last two playoff experiences shown or taught you?
JONATHAN CHEECHOO: Just that things tighten up a lot more. It's the team that's hungrier that's going to come away with the series win. When it gets to that point, it's pretty well matched up in terms of skill level.
It's just the team that executes and the team that wants it more.
Q. The Western Conference is pretty tight. Aside from your team, what team has given you the most trouble? Who do you think is the team to beat in the west?
JONATHAN CHEECHOO: It's hard to say, but Nashville is in first place, so I would have to say they're probably the team to beat. But we've always had good battles with Anaheim. It seems like we play a fairly similar style to them. It's always a good game when we play them.
We have a pretty strong division. I think three or four points separate the top three teams in our division, so that it’s a battle every time we play each other.
Q. How important is first place in your division?
JONATHAN CHEECHOO: It's huge. If you finish first you get to play one of the lower seeds and you get home ice throughout, you know, most of the playoffs. So it's something that we're shooting for.