The rest of the San Jose Sharks also found plenty of good things to take away from a confidence-building victory over the Minnesota Wild. Joe Thornton scored his first goal at home this season and Patrick Marleau had a goal and an assist in the Sharks’ 3-1 win Tuesday night. Evgeni Nabokov made 22 saves and Mike Grier also scored for the Sharks, who avenged a decisive 4-1 loss to Minnesota last month with two early goals followed by two periods of strong defence.
Nabokov was outstanding in his second win in five starts, snapping the Wild’s four-game winning streak at the Shark Tank.
Marleau finished it off with his seventh goal of the season with 4:55 to play. Although Landon, his 3-week-old son, was already asleep, Marleau made sure he took home the puck.
“He’ll probably end up using it in the driveway later on,” said the San Jose captain, who walked through the locker room holding his son after the game. “We did a lot of good things that we haven’t been doing as well lately. It was good to see some strong 5-on-5 play, and then we played better defence than we’ve been getting lately.”
Sharks coach Ron Wilson broke up his top line around Thornton, putting Mark Bell on Marleau’s line and dispatching Jonathan Cheechoo – the NHL’s top goal-scorer last season – to the third line. The move didn’t end Cheechoo’s goal drought, which reached seven games, but Wilson praised the former 56-goal scorer’s work ethic.
Although Thornton is still building chemistry with his changing linemates, the reigning NHL MVP feels confident in San Jose’s steady improvement early this season.
“I don’t think we had scored three goals at 5-on-5 all season,” Thornton said. “We came out strong, got a couple of goals early and stayed on top of it, just like we wanted to.”
Todd White scored and Manny Fernandez stopped 27 shots for Minnesota in the opener of a five-game road trip after playing just four games away from St. Paul all season. The Wild have lost three of four after a 9-1 start, including their first back-to-back defeats of the season.
“All the group in general played hard, but when you play a good team and you play with two (healthy) centres, what are you going to do?” said Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire, whose club already was without injured forwards Marian Gaborik and Wes Walz before center Jason Morgan went down with an undisclosed injury.
“We couldn’t stay out of the box so we could play 5-on-5, and maybe have a chance to get a goal or two.”
After Grier’s early goal, Thornton got just his third goal in 16 games this season – and his first in eight home games – when he redirected rookie Matt Carle’s shot past Fernandez midway through the first period.
“I’m not worried about scoring goals,” said Thornton, who’s among the NHL leaders with 16 assists. “I just want to help this team win.”
White answered for the Wild when he was left alone in front of Nabokov. After 41 scoreless minutes, Marleau gave Nabokov some cushion with a goal on an odd-man rush with Mark Smith.
“We just couldn’t get enough chances to beat them, and (Nabokov) was strong, too,” Fernandez said. “When you give up two in the first period, obviously there’s some catching up to do for the rest of the game.”
Despite the loss, the Wild’s five-game road trip is something special: More than two-thirds of the club’s players and executives are traveling through California with their fathers, who sat in the stands together wearing Minnesota’s alternate red jerseys with their names on the back. With three days off in Los Angeles before their next game, they planned to hit the Universal Studios theme park Wednesday.
San Jose begins a four-game road trip in Los Angeles on Thursday.
Notes: Cheechoo left the ice less than five minutes into the game after getting hit in the face by a shot, but returned for the second period wearing a visor. … Sharks enforcer Scott Parker made his first appearance of the season, returning from injured reserve to play a handful of shifts. Ville Nieminen and Curtis Brown were scratched. … Walz was scratched with a leg injury for the third time in four games. He scored his 100th NHL goal in the Wild’s previous trip to San Jose.