SAN JOSE, Calif. – Devin Setoguchi instinctively snapped to attention whenever he heard Ron Wilson’s familiar bark across the ice. The San Jose forward even caught himself glancing to the Toronto bench for instructions from his former coach, who laughed at the eye contact.
Although the Sharks still love Wilson several months after his firing, they sure didn’t give any of that love to his new team.
Joe Thornton had a goal and three assists in San Jose’s fantastic first period, and the Sharks trounced Wilson’s Maple Leafs 5-2 Tuesday night for their eighth consecutive victory.
Wilson is the winningest coach in Sharks history with 206 victories and two division titles, but he was fired last May after San Jose’s third straight second-round playoff exit in his 4 1/2 seasons. He essentially got the welcome he expected from the burgeoning NHL powerhouse he left behind for new coach Todd McLellan, who has propelled the Sharks to the best 25-game start in NHL history.
“From what I’ve seen, this is easily the best team in the league,” Wilson said after the Leafs gave up four goals in the first 17:07. “If we somehow could have survived maybe the first 10 minutes of the game, we would have found an equilibrium, but it was over by then. That was one where you throw the white towel in the corner, (like) in a boxing match.”
Setoguchi, Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic also scored early goals for the Sharks (21-3-1), who matched the Montreal Canadiens’ 43 points after 25 games in the 1943-44 season, when they went 20-2-3. Evgeni Nabokov stopped 29 shots and Joe Pavelski added a short-handed goal in the third period as the Sharks improved to 13-0-1 at home, where the many holdovers from Wilson’s tenure had a noticeable jump in their skates with their old coach back in town.
“Guys were definitely motivated to play against the old coaching staff,” said Setoguchi, a rookie last season under Wilson. “I definitely felt a little jump out there. You don’t want Ronnie bragging.”
Wilson and former Sharks assistant coaches Tim Hunter and Rob Zettler got a standing ovation when they appeared on the scoreboard early in the game, but Wilson didn’t see the tribute.
“I was licking my wounds at that point,” he said. “It wasn’t fun being on the bench in the first period.”
That’s been a common feeling for opponents at the Shark Tank, where Wilson’s last club started a streak that’s now approaching another NHL record. San Jose, the only NHL team without a home loss in regulation this season, has earned a point in 23 straight regular-season games at the Tank.
The Sharks haven’t lost at all since Nov. 11, when Nashville won at San Jose in overtime.
“It’s not like we’re jumping for joy,” Boyle said. “We’re pretty focused here. It’s just the start of the season, and there’s bigger and better things to work on.”
Nikolai Kulemin and Niklas Hagman scored for the Maple Leafs, and former Sharks goalie Vesa Toskala made 25 saves after giving up a soft goal to Setoguchi just 75 seconds in. Toronto had won consecutive games for just the third time all season after beating the Kings 3-1 Monday night.
“Our goal is to become as good as San Jose, so it was a test for us,” said Toskala, Nabokov’s longtime backup and former co-starter. “It was good to see how they play and how they move the puck.”
Setoguchi scored his 13th goal when Toskala botched an easy stop on the second-year pro’s chip shot at the net, but Toskala had little chance moments later when Pavelski’s hard shot off the boards landed on top of the Toronto net and bounced behind the goalie into the crease. Thornton tucked it home as Toskala’s mask came off while trying to stop it.
After Boyle scored from the slot with 4:01 left in the period, Vlasic added a power-play goal 68 seconds later on a sublime no-look pass from Thornton, who had four points in a period for the third time in his career. It was the 20th four-point game of the 2006 MVP’s career.
“Really, the game was over after the first 10 minutes,” Thornton said. “We’re a pretty confident bunch in here. It’s no big deal.”
Notes: Toronto RW Jamal Mayers missed his first game of the season after breaking his hand on the post Monday night in Los Angeles while trying to help Toskala. … Sharks RW Jonathan Cheechoo, who has just four goals in 19 games, missed his second straight game due to an upper-body injury. … San Jose C Riley Armstrong made his home debut after getting called up to the NHL last weekend before the Sharks’ win at Phoenix.