Joe Thornton just recently played in his 1.000th NHL game. Since he's been such a prolific scorer throughout his illustrious journey, a huge career achievement in the points department couldn't be far behind.
Thornton became just the 50th player in NHL history to notch 700 assists as a result of a two assist performance in a 3-1 win over the Nashville Predators. It goes without saying that we're watching a player who will likely be included in the Hall of Fame when he finally skates off into the sunset.
We're a far way away from that, though, as Thornton showed tonight that he remains one of the NHL's most dangerous passers. Joe Pavelski, who has six goals in seven games this season, has been the prime recipient of Thornton's feeds so far this year and chipped in two more with the captain's help tonight.
Despite Pavelski's two goal outburst, the game was a more or less uneventful affair through the first two periods. Nashville has always been a stingy team when it comes to quality chances allowed, and San Jose did their best to emulate that style. The Sharks were the first to get on the board, as Logan Couture and Martin Havlat combined for the team's first shorthanded goal of the season. The pair streaked into the Nashville zone, and after Havlat put one off the pads of Pekka Rinne, Couture made a nice move and pounced on the rebound to give the Sharks the lead. It was another great moment of chemistry between Couture and Havlat, who connected for their second tally in two games. Havlat, who himself is still coming back from injury, has three assists in his first three games with the Sharks.
The second was a scoreless affair; both teams had their chances but the Finnish goaltenders at each end held strong for their respective clubs. The aforementioned Rinne was strong as usual, and the Sharks' Antti Niemi seems to be getting better and better with each start after returning from injury.
The Sharks did give up a goal in the third, however, as Nashville's Ben Smith slid one past a sprawled out Niemi on Nashville's fourth power play. It was an unlucky goal all around; Brent Burns broke his stick, Michal Handzus gave his to Burns, and the Sharks were stuck with virtually three players to defend. Handzus did what he could in an attempt to seal the puck on the boards, but Nashville worked it free and into a scramble in the crease. After Niemi made a few key saves, Smith tied the game with some good hands.
Even though Nashville did convert on that play, their fourth power play of the evening, the Sharks killed the other three in what has been a strong stretch of penalty killing for the team. Since allowing three power play goals against Phoenix in the home opener, the Sharks have killed 15 of 18 penalties over six games. The power play, however, has hit a bit of a cold streak. It's something that all will be conscious of going forward.
Nashville didn't have the game tied long, as Pavelski would receive a pass from Thornton and come from behind the net to force the puck past Rinne to give the Sharks back the lead just 0:57 after Nashville tied it. The Predators would pull RInne soon after, but Patrick Marleau made a strong play at the blue line to break Pavelski who hit the open net dead-center.
This win was an encouraging one for San Jose; not only was it their third straight win and one that put them back above .500, but it was also an all around strong performance by all players. Niemi stopped 19 of 20 shots against, Jamie McGinn had another excellent game playing alongside Handzus, Marc-Edouard Vlasic continues to play his incredible defensive game and the Sharks pumped 16 more shots on goal than their competition despite leading most of the game.
After a troubling start to the year, the Sharks seem to be on the upswing. They'll catch their arch-rival on Friday when they visit the Detroit Red Wings, a team headed in the opposite direction lately. After starting the season hot, the Wings have been outscored 11 to 2 in their last two games.
That won't matter Friday, though, as Detroit will be ready to take on the San Jose squad that knocked them out of the playoffs two straight years. Get excited for one of the marquee games of the season later in the week. It's going to be a doozy.