If anyone knows about the East Coast vs. West Coast media perception, it’s center Joe Thornton
, who played eight seasons for the Boston Bruins.
When asked by reporters if right wing Jonathan Cheechoo could score 40 goals in the Eastern Conference and keep as low a profile as he has throughout the season, Thornton’s answer was quite obvious. “Definitely not,” he said with a smile. “The secret is out now, though.”
Cheechoo continued his memorable 2005-06 season by recording his franchise record fourth hat trick in Monday’s 4-3 win over Los Angeles. He became the second player in Sharks history to score 40 goals, joining Owen Nolan, who had 44 in 1999-00.
Cheechoo has been an offensive force since Dec. 2, which as nearly every Sharks fan knows is the day Thornton made his debut in Teal. In 39 games since that date, Cheechoo has 33 goals and 20 assists for 53 points. Thornton has played a big role in Cheechoo’s rise. As an example, on Monday night, he had the primary assists on all three of Cheechoo’s goals.
Thornton, who had spent most of his NHL career in the Eastern Time Zone, didn’t know much about Cheechoo when he joined the Sharks. But he knows about him now. “He just goes into areas where a lot of goal scorers don’t go,” Thornton said about Cheechoo’s game. “He has a great shot and release.”
“He (Thornton) draws a lot of double teams,” Cheechoo said. “He sees the ice so well that all you have to do is get open and find a soft spot in the defense.”
Cheechoo’s night has now catapulted him into fourth among NHL goal scoring leaders, behind the Rangers Jaromir Jagr (44), and Ilya Kovalchuk of Atlanta and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin (42).
Thornton’s right – Cheechoo is no longer a Silicon Valley secret.
The last time Jonathan Cheechoo scored 40 goals was in 1999-00 for Belleville in the Ontario Hockey League. That year, his 45 goals were fourth in the OHL.
Fast forward to 2005-06 and now Cheechoo has 40 goals.
“You never expect to have a year like this,” he said. “This is what I work for. This is what I spent my summers training for. It’s nice to have something like this happen.”
Cheechoo may have not expected to have a 40-goal season, but his coach, Ron Wilson, certainly did. “I thought that was his maximum,” Wilson said. “I wasn’t sure if he could do it this year. Obviously, you’re looking at guy who’s got a shot at being a 50-goal scorer, let alone being a 40-goal scorer. I’m glad he’s exceeded all expectations as far as I was concerned.”
THE LEADER BOARD
Through games of Monday, Joe Thornton
’s three assists now give him 95 points – and the NHL’s scoring lead by two points over the Rangers’ Jaromir Jagr. Thornton continues to pace the League with 70 assists. Only Atlanta’s Marc Savard (55) comes close.
How does Thornton feel about being at the top of the NHL scoring lead? “As long as we get the two points (in a win),” he said. “That’s all that really matters.”
Thornton doesn’t place a lot of personal importance on having the NHL scoring lead. However, Coach Ron Wilson has a different view. “I’m excited that he’s leading the League in scoring now,” Wilson said.
Cheechoo is now among the NHL’s top three goal scorers, trailing Jagr (44), Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin (42). “They’re good players. They’re going to be tough to catch,” Cheechoo said.
LOOKS DON’T MATTER
Jonathan Cheechoo’s first goal at 8:10 of the second came after Joe Thornton
dumped the puck behind the Kings net. Cheechoo took the carom off the boards and tucked it past goaltender Mathieu Garon. His second goal came at 3:18 of the third period in heavy traffic in front of the Kings net. “Joe (Thornton) did a great job of fighting off guys. ‘Ek’ (Nils Ekman, who had the second assist on the goal) was working the puck down low with them and I picked up the garbage in front,” Cheechoo said.
His first two goals probably won’t make ESPN “SportsCenter’s” nightly Top-10, but Cheechoo did something novice hockey players learn early: good things happen when you put the puck on the net. “They all count,” he said. “They don’t ask how.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Monday’s 4-3 win over Los Angeles was San Jose’s sixth straight at home. The Sharks are also 3-0 on this season-long six-game homestand.
“The win was big for us,” Jonathan Cheechoo said. “We’re making up points against teams who are ahead of us in the standings. These are teams we have games in hand on. Hopefully, we can use this momentum we have right now.”
“Tonight was the biggest game of the year and then Thursday will be,” Joe Thornton
said. “Every game is huge for this team. We realize that.”
San Jose’s next opponent will be the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. After losing nine straight from Jan. 4-20, the Blues are 10-3-4. But they’re in fourth place in the Central Division with a 20-32-11 record.
SCOTT THORNTON UPDATE
Left wing Scott Thornton was limited to only 4:36 of playing time on Monday night after suffering an upper body strain early in the game. His status is day-to-day.