Jonathan Cheechoo set a franchise record by scoring his 45th goal of the season. Joe Thornton
had three assists to give him a personal career high in points and the San Jose single-season record for most assists. And rookie defenseman Matt Carle made his National Hockey League debut by scoring his first goal.
But most importantly, the Sharks defeated the Minnesota Wild, 5-1, at Xcel Energy Center. The win was the first in four tries by the Sharks against the Wild and gave San Jose a 2-1 record on their five-game road trip.
San Jose opened the scoring early in the first period. The Sharks first goal of the night was a memorable one as Cheechoo tied Owen Nolan’s record for most goals in a season (set in 1999-00) as he scored his 44th at 3:37. Nils Ekman streaked down the right wing and passed to Cheechoo, who was crashing the net on the left side and put the puck past Wild goaltender Manny Fernandez.
Cheechoo’s goal was his 44th of the season and tied the mark set by Nolan in 1999-00. Thornton also received an assist on the goal. The assist was his 52nd with the Sharks, tying the franchise record set by Kelly Kisio (52, set in 1992-93). The point gave Thornton 101 for the season, tying his personal career high (set in 2002-03 with Boston).
Minnesota had a chance at the power play as Cheechoo was called for hooking at 10:44, but the Sharks killed the penalty. The Sharks also had one power play opportunity late in the period as Martin Skoula was called for delay of game at 17:37. But Minnesota, who has the NHL’s top penalty kill, did their job.
Besides Cheechoo, the headline grabber for San Jose was goaltender Vesa Toskala. He faced 11 shots on goal and saved them all, including some tough chances off the sticks of Marian Gaborik, Mikko Koivu and Pascal Dupuis. Thanks to Toskala’s efforts, San Jose led, 1-0, after the first 20 minutes.
San Jose opened the second period by taking the first two penalties as Kyle McLaren was called for hooking at 1:13. The next penalty was called on Carle, who was signed by the Sharks on March 21. He was called for holding at 5:36.
The Sharks killed both penalties, but lost the shutout at 8:32. Brian Rolston took a pass in the neutral zone from Randy Robitaille, went in on Toskala and put a shot through his five-hole to tie the score at 1-1.
Former Sharks defenseman Andrei Zyuzin got called for interference at 9:12, but the Sharks power play was short as Carle was whistled for hooking at 9:28.
The Wild committed another penalty at 12:19 that would prove costly. After Koivu was called for hooking, the Sharks scored on the power play. Tom Preissing got the puck in the Wild end at the left point. He passed the puck to Patrick Marleau
in the right faceoff circle. Marleau then dished the puck towards Milan Michalek, who was standing in front of the net. Michalek fought off a Wild defender and got a backhand chip shot through Fernandez for his 15th goal. That gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead.
San Jose dominated play in the third period as they outshot the Wild, 9-6. At 5:43, Marleau scored on the power play. His goal came after Kurtis Foster was called for a high stick on Nils Ekman at 4:28. From the right side in the Wild zone, Marleau gave a pass to Thornton in the right corner. Marleau cut to the net as Thornton passed the puck towards the slot. Marleau got the puck and banged it past Fernandez to give the Sharks a 3-1 lead.
Not only did Thornton pick up his second assist of the night, his helper gave him 102 points – a new personal career high – and his Sharks franchise record 53rd assist. Marleau scored his 32nd goal of the season and his 18th on the power play, just one shy of Cheechoo’s 19 for the team lead.
At 11:41, not only did the Sharks take a 4-1 lead, but made history. Ekman was skating on the left side of the neutral zone when he passed to Thornton at the right blueline. Thornton took the puck in, left a behind-the-back pass to a trailing Cheechoo, who slapped the puck past Fernandez’s right side for his franchise record 45th goal.
To make the night complete, Carle, who already was called for two minor penalties, made a positive contribution on the scoresheet at 19:43. Patrick Rissmiller dumped and chased the puck into the right corner of the Wild zone. He skated out of the corner, saw Carle alone at the right point. Rissmiller passed the puck to Carle, who wristed one past Fernandez for his first NHL goal and a 5-1 win.
San Jose’s top scorers on the night were Joe Thornton
(three assists), Jonathan Cheechoo (two goals and an assist), Nils Ekman (two assists) and Patrick Marleau
(a goal and an assist). One also can’t forget the efforts of goaltender Vesa Toskala, who saved 24 of 25 shots. The Sharks did get 23 shots on Minnesota goaltender Manny Fernandez, paced by Cheechoo (six) and Ville Nieminen (four).
“VESKU” IS COOL
Vesa Toskala has now earned the Sharks at least a point in 18 of his last 19 starts (15-1-3). In that stretch, he’s got a goals-against average of 2.17 (42 goals against in 1,159 minutes) and a .918 save percentage (470-for-512).
The Minnesota Wild may have the NHL’s best penalty kill, but the Sharks looked very sharp on Saturday night. San Jose stoned Minnesota on all six of their chances, including four in the second period.
Tom Preissing, who played high school hockey in the Twin Cities, bought 20 tickets for family and friends to watch him play. He had three blocked shots and an assist in 22:47 of playing time…Matt Carle’s NHL debut started out being a penalty fest as he was called for two minors in the second period. But in 10:38 of playing time, he scored his first NHL goal, spent 2:04 on the power play and had an even plus/minus rating.
Scott Thornton, who had missed the last five games with a rib injury, skated slightly over 10-and-a-half minutes on Saturday night.
Gorges, Fahey, Parker, Stevenson and Murray
San Jose travels to Chicago for a Sunday night (4 p.m., Sharks Radio Network, FSN Bay Area, sjsharks.com) contest against the Blackhawks. The Sharks are now 5-5 in the first of consecutive road games and 2-3 in the second.