San Jose broke the recent trend. For three consecutive contests, they had posted exactly five goals. Thursday night they again reached the five goal plateau, but they did one better, scoring six in the 6-2 victory against the Florida Panthers. You can’t fault them for improving their output.
San Jose set a team mark with their fourth straight game with four or more goals. The sixth tally came when Scott Thornton scored his first goal playing alongside his cousin Joe, who posted two points for the fourth consecutive game.
Mark Smith set a career best with a two-goal performance against the Panthers. His first tally broke a 1-1 tie and his second proved to be the game-winner.
“Let’s keep it going,” said Smith following the game.
The gritty center did a great job of finishing, but both tallies were set up by nice plays from Josh Langfeld. On the first, Langfeld grabbed the puck behind the net and centered the driving Smith who knocked it past Jamie McLennan. On the second, Langfeld fed Smith near the goal line and he circled behind the net and went top shelf.
“Langer did a great job along the boards and I just picked up the garbage,” said Smith.
On the second tally, Smith was surprised how long he was left alone.
“Everybody went to the front of the net,” said Smith. “He did a great job on that one too. I just kept coming around and the puck went in the corner.”
Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson played Smith late in hopes he could complete the hat trick.
“I was looking to put it in, but I took a bad shot,” said Smith. “I was hoping the puck had eyes, but just winning is the big thing.”
Wilson enjoyed seeing his fourth line center earn a star on the night.
“Joe who? Patty who?,” laughed Wilson. “Smitty’s goals were huge goals at that point. He gives his best effort every shift. It is nice to see him get rewarded. We tried to get him the hat trick, but he missed the net.”
Team Teal was outshot 36-24 on the night, and while the defense did a strong job of letting Evgeni Nabokov see the puck, the Sharks top netminder made the big saves when he had to in his first contest back since his Buffalo start.
“I’m just trying to do my job,” said Nabokov. “Any save can be big, whether it’s the first, second or third period. I don’t separate the first and third periods.”
And he felt no ill effects from the groin injury that kept him out for two contests.
“I felt pretty good right of the get go,” said Nabokov. “It (his groin) felt no different than the last game I played.”
Nabokov said he had plenty of assistance in taking his second consecutive win.
“Like in Buffalo, the guys gave me a lot of help and cleared out the rebounds,” said Nabokov.
“Nabby played the way he did in Buffalo until he tweaked his groin,” said Wilson. “He was ready to play the last game, but we didn’t want to risk it. We wanted him to get the extra day off and it paid off. He made a couple of key saves in the first that he might not have made a month ago.”
He also appreciated being spotted three goals.
“We were able to score goals and to capitalize on their mistakes,” said Nabokov. “That makes things easier. When you are able to score key goals, it makes you a better team.”
The game featured the first four picks from the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. In order they were Joe Thornton
, Patrick Marleau
, Olli Jokinen and Roberto Luongo (who backed up on the evening). Obviously Marleau is now closer with Thornton, but he has come across all of them at one point, just not all at once recently.
“We all met at the draft,” said Marleau. “I’ve played with Luongo at the world championships. The same with Joe. I haven’t really talked with Jokinen since and I don’t think he spoke much English then.”
GOING FOR TWO
Rob Davison scored his first goal of the season against Atlanta, tying his career high. He nearly doubled his yearly output in the first period when Marleau fed him on a two-on-one rush.
“I was just trying to hit the net,” said Davison. “I felt the guy right on me and wanted to get the shot off.”
Davison had the defender right beside him, but using some surprising speed to create a bit of space so Marleau could connect on the pass.
The four-game winning streak started with the acquisition of Joe Thornton
, but there is an even larger factor in the recent success.
“I think we are a lot more confident,” Smith. “We’re doing the little things better and doing what it takes to win.” Joe Thornton
has eight points in eight games, but Marleau is hot as well.
“What can you say about Patty,” said Smith. “He has elevated his game to another level and I hope to see more of it.”
The little things include playing together.
“We have five man units going up and down together,” said Marleau. “It is just a confidence playing together. I think we have a sense of urgency. Now guys are coming to the rink knowing the guy next to them is working hard.”
8 IS NOT ENOUGH
Grant Stevenson’s goal was his eighth point in as many games since being called up from Cleveland. While the goalie was down, the tally was not easy by any means.
With virtually no angle as the puck was almost on the goal line, Stevenson knocked the puck in only after it hit the far post and bounce the right way. Patrick Marleau
saw the entire play as he was attempting not to knock the net off the moorings. Even at the game’s conclusion, Stevenson wasn’t sure how the puck crossed the line.
“I was right over the goal and it went right off the post,” said Marleau.
“I still don’t know if it hit a skate,” said Stevenson before being told the puck went in clean. “It was a bad angle and I just through the backhand at it.”
OLYMPICS Joe Thornton
posted his 30th and 31st assist of the season (10-31=41) and has scored 8 points (1 goal, 7 assists) since joining the Sharks. He is currently tied for 2nd in the NHL in assists. Together with Marleau, the Sharks could have the best one-two punch at center in the Western Conference, if not the NHL.
“Joe and Patty are making a statement for the Olympic team,” said Wilson. “Patty is playing the best hockey I’ve ever seen him play. They both had a number of opportunities tonight. Joe could have had five or six points.”
The duo was playing so well, the Wilson left them on the ice a lot.
“I played them quite a bit in the first and second,” said Wilson. “In the third I rolled four lines.”
San Jose will host their third consecutive Southeast Division foe Saturday night when the Carolina Hurricanes come to town. Tickets are still available at www.ticketmaster.com and the game can be viewed on FSN Bay Area and heard on 98.5 KFOX and .