SAN JOSE, Calif. – Joe Thornton has spent most of his tenure in San Jose setting up teammates with his pinpoint passing. He celebrated his 500th game with the Sharks with an impressive goal of his own.
Thornton knocked the puck out of the air for the tiebreaking goal in the second period and the Sharks went on to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 on Thursday night for their third straight win.
“He’s one of the best players in the world for a reason,” coach Todd McLellan said. “‘He has great hand-eye co-ordination.”
Ryane Clowe added a power-play goal, Jason Demers had two assists and Thomas Greiss made 23 saves in his first game since Dec. 3 as the Sharks followed up road wins over nemesis Vancouver and Anaheim with one against the NHL’s worst team.
Vinny Prospal scored and Curtis Sanford made 37 saves for the Blue Jackets, who lost for the 18th time in 20 games at San Jose.
Thornton has been the face of the franchise ever since the Sharks acquired him in a trade from Boston on Nov. 30, 2005. He has led San Jose to back-to-back trips to the Western Conference final and has the Sharks atop the Pacific Division once again this season.
“It just goes by really, really quick,” Thornton said. “Too quick. Way too quick.”
He delivered the big goal in this game when he broke a 1-1 tie early in the second period. Patrick Marleau sent in a quick wrist shot from just inside the blue-line and Thornton fought off a check from David Savard to knock the puck out of the air and past Sanford for his eighth goal of the season and just third since Nov. 17.
Greiss, filling in for starter Antti Niemi, helped make sure the lead stood up, making a key skate save against Antoine Vermette early in the third period and a pad save on Jeff Carter in the closing seconds to give San Jose at least one point for the 10th time in the past 11 games.
Greiss got his first win since making 36 saves in a 4-1 victory at Colorado on Nov. 20.
“It’s just getting your timing right, get used to game speed again,” Greiss said. “I thought I played decent. Even though it was a long time, I’ve been working hard in practice to get ready for it, so it made it a little easier.”
The Blue Jackets, playing their first game since New Year’s Eve, showed no signs of early rust from their four days off, getting seven of the first eight shots of the game. They jumped on top just 2:13 in when Mark Letestu fed Prospal with a blind, backhand pass from behind the net for a tap-in goal that was his first since Dec. 6.
But that was all they would get.
“I think the guys realized, hey, we’ve got to tighten up a little bit, and I think we did that,” Thornton said. “Greisser did a good job of just swallowing pucks up and (sending) pucks away from him. But after that first one we just clamped down and played well defensively.”
The Sharks, playing the back end of a back-to-back, started slowly before gradually taking over the game.
They were sluggish for most of a four-minute power play when Ryan Johansen was sent off for high-sticking Dan Boyle, drawing boos from the sellout crowd. But with 45 seconds left in the man advantage, Clowe knocked a rebound past Sanford for his eighth goal of the season and first on the power play since Oct. 28.
“Four-minute penalties are tough to kill off, especially against a team that’s so deep on the power play,” Sanford said. “They got some shots through. The first goal was a bad-luck bounce. It was just kind of pinballing around there and it just found its way in.”
The Sharks had five power plays while not giving Columbus one chance with the man advantage.
“We didn’t want them to get going on the power play early in the game and we played a real solid first 10 minutes and we got the lead,” Columbus coach Scott Arniel said. “Then we got hit by six minutes of penalties. It really gave them life and jump-started them. They had a lot of opportunities there on the power play.”
Notes: Thornton is the 10th player to appear in 500 games with the Sharks. He joined Marco Sturm as the only ones to score a goal in their 500th game with the team. … Letestu left in the third period with a broken hand. … The Sharks recalled F Tommy Wingels from Worcester and placed D Colin White on injured reserve. Wingels played in place of Torrey Mitchell, who was a healthy scratch.