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Sharks Cheechoo says he's struggled this year but is finding his form again

Jonathan Cheechoo can relate.

The San Jose Sharks right-winger had a monster season last year, scoring an NHL-leading 56 goals and finishing with 93 points. He won the Maurice Richard Trophy with the NHL's highest goal total in a half decade.

Cheechoo quietly acknowledges he may not have lived up to expectations this season but believes his scoring touch is returning in time for the playoffs.

"I had a rough mid-part of the season," the soft-spoken Cheechoo said during a conference call Thursday. "Lately it's seemed I've been getting a lot more chances and a lot more scoring opportunities."

Cheechoo has scored 21 goals and added 22 assists in 51 games this season while battling through a groin and knee injury. He's scored four goals in San Jose's last five games and collected four points from a goal and three assists in Tuesday's 6-5 win over St. Louis.

While he'd like to have scored more goals this year, what really frustrates the native of Moose Factory, Ont., is his defensive play, where he's a minus-9.

"There was a little bit of pressure to score," he said. "For the most part the team was very supportive of me. They just want me to continue to improve in others parts of my game.

"If I'm not scoring they want me to be responsible defensively. That is something that kind of slipped this year and that was part of my game I was disappointed in. It's starting to get better the last couple of months or so. Hopefully I will continue to improve that part."

The Sharks were picked by some to be Stanley Cup finalists this year. San Jose's record of 36-30-2 leaves the Sharks one point behind Anaheim for first place in the NHL's Pacific Division heading into Thursday night's play.

"I think we still have more to give," said Cheechoo. "I think we've played good for stretches and we've played good for parts of games.

"When we start to play the whole 60 minutes together and start to play well consistently, I think that's when you'll see our best hockey."

The Sharks would like it if they didn't have to face an Alberta team in this year's playoffs.

San Jose lost out in the conference final to Calgary in 2004, then were beaten by Edmonton in last year's conference semifinal.

The window of opportunity stays open only so long for any sports teams. Cheechoo agreed that's a thought shared by players isn the Sharks dressing room.

"You see guys that have been to the Stanley Cup and haven't been back," he said. "I've played with a few of those guys. They tell you how hard it is to get there.

"I think it's something when you have a team like this you to take advantage of that. You have to come out when the playoffs come around and be ready to perform. Everybody has to pull their own share."

Cheechoo said the time has come for him to show some leadership on the team.

"With the year I had last year I'll probably get a few more looks from some of the younger guys, watching how I do things and how I work," said the 26-year-old who is in his fourth season.

"It's something where I want to come out in practice and show them I have to work hard on my game just to keep it up."

There's no doubt the trade that brought Joe Thornton to the Sharks was a huge boost to Cheechoo's career. Thornton is the setup man with the feather passes and Cheechoo the closer with the booming shot.

"He loves to pass and I love to shoot," said Cheechoo. "We just seem to fit together really well from the start.

"It's easy the way he plays, the style he plays. He's such a great passer that if you get to a little open spot, he's going to find you."


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