Of course, their veteran talent also had plenty to contribute. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski scored their first goals, while Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau each had a goal and two assists as the Sharks rebounded from an embarrassing loss with a 6-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.
The victory was a tonic for the Sharks, blown out 5-0 by Anaheim one night earlier in a showdown between two of the league’s most successful teams.
Thornton had another standout game, but got his greatest excitement from the milestones achieved by his rookie teammates – and the Sharks won’t let the youngsters’ success go to their heads. Mike Grier jokingly attempted to block reporters from speaking to Pavelski, while Thornton teased them with goofy nicknames.
“Now we’re going to expect them to score in every game,” Thornton said. “We’ve done a good job all year rebounding from bad games, and this is something we can learn from.”
The Sharks played without injured forwards Jonathan Cheechoo (leg) and Milan Michalek (arm) in their seventh victory in nine games. Vesa Toskala allowed two soft goals while making 24 saves – but with the Sharks’ wealth of firepower, it didn’t matter.
Marleau got his 200th career goal as San Jose recovered from its disappointing Anaheim trip in style, scoring four goals in the first 9 minutes of the second period to rout the Kings in the Pacific Division rivals’ third meeting in 14 days.
“We wanted to bounce back, and it’s good to get (the goal) off my shoulders,” said Vlasic, the precocious 19-year-old defenceman who hadn’t scored a goal in his first 22 NHL games. “I wasn’t worried. I knew it would come eventually.”
Pavelski, a center who led Wisconsin to the NCAA title last spring, made his NHL debut for the Sharks after getting a 4 a.m. call requesting his services while he was in Massachusetts with San Jose’s top minor league affiliate. He took Michalek’s place on a line with Marleau and Bernier, and got his goal on a rebound of Hannan’s shot midway through the third period.
“I don’t know what time it is, but I’m having fun,” Pavelski said.
Steve Bernier and Marcel Goc added second-period goals, and league MVP Thornton paced the Sharks’ victory with his fifth three-point game of the season. He had the primary power-play assists on San Jose’s tying and tiebreaking goals, then added his own sixth goal of the season on an expertly placed shot through traffic 2 minutes into the second period.
Marleau added his team-leading 13th goal 58 seconds later, and Goc chased Dan Cloutier by deflecting Scott Hannan’s long shot into the net midway through the period, putting the Sharks up 5-1.
San Jose coach Ron Wilson claimed he said nothing special to spark the outburst.
“Our defencemen were just playing way too passive and caving in the neutral zone,” he said. “We had to step up and get in people’s faces rather than sitting back and watching them have a field day. I don’t think we played as well as the score shows … but that was about the best hockey we’ve played in two weeks in that 10 minutes (of the second period).”
Scott Thornton, Dustin Brown and Lubomir Visnovsky scored for the Kings, who came back rusty after a four-day layoff. Cloutier made just seven saves on 12 shots before getting yanked.
“It seems when one thing goes bad, five things go bad,” said Scott Thornton, who spent his last five seasons with the Sharks. “We even called timeout and talked about staying composed. They got three, four shots in a row and had some good tips and good screens, and they’re in the net. It was nice to be back in San Jose, but the good feeling didn’t last too long.”
Vlasic, who surprised even himself by earning a roster spot out of training camp, scored when Joe Thornton collected a loose puck behind Los Angeles’ net and set up an easy shot in the first period. Thornton found similar holes in the Kings’ defence throughout the night.
“Our guys have made some mistakes because we’re young and inexperienced,” Los Angeles coach Marc Crawford said. “We’re putting guys in positions maybe they’re not ready (for), but in order to find out if they’re ready, we have to put them in.”
Notes: The Sharks put Cheechoo on injured reserve before the game, but the 56-goal scorer last season could return as early as Saturday’s game against New Jersey. Cheechoo was hurt in a goal-mouth scramble against Colorado last week. … Michalek, who had 23 points in his first 22 games, got hurt when his arm was bent awkwardly against the boards in Anaheim.