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Thornton persists in assists
You think Joe Thornton leads the NHL in assists because of karma?
On Saturday in Minnesota, the cargo barge of an MVP candidate for San Jose set a career high for points. Hours earlier, the man who dealt the former No. 1 pick out of Boston earlier this seasongeneral manager Mike O'Connellreceived his walking papers.
And Sunday at the United Center, Thornton's shifts once again featured free GPS for the goal, including the backhand setup of the game-winner in a 5-4 overtime victory over the Blackhawks before 10,121.
It was Thornton's second three-assist game in two nights, extending his league-leading total to 81 and that career-best point total to 106.
"Obviously, Joe Thornton knows how to find guys," said Sharks defenseman Tom Preissing, who scored the overtime winner. "You really can't say enough about him. He knows where you want the puck and how to get it there."
And frequently. In the first period, Thornton fed Jonathan Cheechoo for a shot, which rebounded out to Steve Bernier for a follow-up blast and San Jose's second goal. On the third score for San Jose, Thornton again lurked behind the net and hit a streaking Nils Ekman, who tied the game 3-3.
Then, with an imminent Blackhawks penalty in overtime, Thornton spied Preissing sliding into place. Gather, assist, repeat.
"The guys are really shooting well right now," Thornton said. "Cheech and [Ekman] are making me look better than I actually am."
Since Thornton arrived Dec. 1, the Sharks have fed. Voraciously.
The Sharks are 28-12-6 since the trade. Thornton has at least one point in 37 of 45 games with San Jose, and he broke the club record for assists despite toiling on the opposite coast for the Sharks' first 24 games.
Meanwhile, Thornton solidified a lifetime spot on Cheechoo's Christmas card list. Cheechoo has pumped in 38 goals since his linemate arrived, and Thornton has assisted on 30.
"[Thornton] is a terrific player, no matter who he plays for," Blackhawks coach Trent Yawney said. "Cheechoo's always been a scorer. To have a guy passing like Joe Thornton, I'm sure he's liking that."
A night earlier, Thornton sidestepped the serendipity of establishing a career-high point total on the day of O'Connell's firing, telling reporters that "stuff like that happens." Sunday he merely spoke of the need to get two points every game as the Sharks battle for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
"Maybe he feels a little different," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "Being in San Jose, he's away from being held up as everything that was wrong with the Bruins."
Now he's usually in on whatever goes right with the Sharks.
Yawney said center Curtis Brown needed 40 stitches after catching a high-stick across his nose and cheek in the first period.
Radim Vrbata, himself a midseason acquisition, recorded two goals and two assists for the Blackhawks.