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Joe Thornton Takes Lead In NHL Scoring Race

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
Joe Thornton has certainly made his mark upon the San Jose Sharks. Thornton, acquired from Boston on Nov. 30, is now the NHL’s point leader, after assisting on three goals in the March 13 game against the Kings. The big centerman leads the Rangers Jaromir Jagr, 95-94. Thornton also leads the NHL with 70 assists. Only Atlanta’s Marc Savard with 55 comes close.

Thornton has at least one point in 32 of his last 39 contests with the Sharks (16-46=62), including 19 multi-point games. At the time of the trade, Thornton was 13th in the NHL In scoring with 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists). For the season, he has 25 goals and 70 assists.

Since joining the Sharks at the beginning of December, Thornton has made a huge impact. The Sharks have earned 71.8 percent (51) of their 71 points since Thornton’s arrival, helping the Sharks go 23-11-5.

"He has made such a difference in this team," Coach Ron Wilson said. "He has helped elevate everyone's play. He’s a horse. The more you play him, the better he gets. He’s a dominant player. Teams in this conference are looking around and saying, ‘Wow! How can we stop this?’ He’s getting double-teamed and teams still can’t stop him.

Personal success aside, Thornton realizes the importance of the Sharks team effort and has given a boost to many of his fellow teammates when it comes to scoring.

Captain Patrick Marleau has benefited greatly from Thornton’s presence on the ice. The move to the second line allows Marleau to help rookie linemates Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier improve. Marleau has scored 47 points since Thornton’s arrival and has twice been named the NHL Offensive Player of the Week (Dec. 4 and Feb. 13). The pair is also the first in franchise history to garner back-to-back NHL Player of the Week honors. Thornton received his for the week of Dec. 11.

But the player who’s benefited the most is probably Jonathan Cheechoo. Since Thornton made his Sharks debut on Dec. 2, Cheechoo has 33 goals and 20 assists for 53 points in 39 games. Cheechoo has also recorded all of his franchise record four hat tricks since Thornton’s arrival.

“He never gives up on a play,” Thornton said of Cheechoo. “He’s unbelievable. I just throw it on net and he grabs the rebound. He goes into areas where a lot of goal scorers don’t go in. He has a great shot, a great release and he’s been awesome.”

And among all players who entered the NHL since 2002-03, Cheechoo is tied with Columbus’ Rick Nash for goals (77) and points (130).

“He (Thornton) draws a lot of double teams,” Cheechoo said. “He sees the ice so well that all you have to do is get there and find a soft spot in the defense.”

There are 19 games left in the regular season. While Thornton appreciates being atop the NHL scoring lead, it’s all about one thing.

“As long as we get the two points,” he said, “that’s all that matters.”

Goaltender Vesa Toskala, the winner of 12 of his last 15 starts, will probably start on Thursday against the St. Louis Blues. Since the Sharks play on both Saturday and Sunday, Toskala and Evgeni Nabokov will split up the weekend games.

“We’ll play it by ear,” said Wilson. “We’ll split on the weekend for sure, provided that everything is A-OK with Nabby. Tosk is playing tomorrow because he’s playing really well.”

Matt Carle, San Jose’s second round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, was ranked as the best college defenseman by The site also lists Carle as the favorite to win the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the nation’s best player.

Carle, the 47th overall pick in 2003, leads the nation’s blueliners in goals and ranks third among all players in assists. He’s having one of the best seasons by a defenseman in the last 20 years. Carle has notched 50 points (11 goals, 39 assists) in 34 games for the University of Denver.

It has been announced that the first-ever Tribute to Hockey Moms will take place March 17-19 with all proceeds going to breast cancer research. More than 200 NHL players will take to the ice with pink hockey sticks carrying the breast cancer logo during the weekend. The specially designed sticks will be used for practices, pregame warm-ups and throughout the games.

Members of the Sharks expecting to use the custom- made sticks are Evgeni Nabokov, Mark Smith, Ville Nieminen, Scott Hannan, Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo.

The limited edition hockey sticks will be autographed by the NHL players and auctioned off at local and national fund raising events in support of breast cancer research.
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