Sharks get spark

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:44 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Just a few minutes after 8 o'clock last night, referee Don Koharski dropped the puck.

Joe Thornton slid the draw back to defenceman Kyle McLaren, who passed to right winger Jonathan Cheechoo, who moved it quickly back to Thornton, breaking hard over the Buffalo blue line.

A split-second later, exactly nine seconds into his new lease on life as a San Jose Shark, Thornton unloaded a lethal slapshot that Buffalo goalie Mika Noronen still hasn't seen.

Now, in the movie version, Thornton's blast rattles off the post and into the net. In real life, it just hit the post, period.

No matter. The tone was set. Five minutes in, the Sharks led 2-0 and Jonathan Cheechoo had scored the first of two goals set up by his new best friend, Thornton. Just past the halfway point of the period, the Sharks, winless in 10 games, had outshot the Sabres 11-1, led 4-0 and Noronen was back on the bench in shame and the Sharks were on their way to their first win in 11 games, a 5-0 shutout.

"I think that first shot Joe took might have shaken (Noronen) up a little bit," San Jose coach Ron Wilson said. "I wasn't sure how we'd start in the sense of were we going to stand around and watch Joe Thornton or were we gonna play. As it turned out, everybody was energized."

For Thornton himself, that shot helped dissipate a lot of nervous energy that had been building for two full days.

"I haven't been sleeping too much lately," he said. "I've been nervous about the first game. But, (after that first shot) I thought, 'This is gonna be all right' and the nerves went right away. I'm a San Jose Shark."

So far, so good, on both coasts, for The Trade.

Between them, the Boston Bruins and Sharks -- two teams that came into this season with lofty aspirations -- had exactly one win in the 20 games leading up to the Wednesday blockbuster that sent superstar Thornton to California, with Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart going to Beantown.

With the three ex-Sharks in the lineup, Boston responded Thursday with just their second win in 11 games, a 3-0 upset of the powerful Ottawa Senators.

With Cheechoo on his right and cousin Scott Thornton on his left, Joe slipped immediately into his new surroundings last evening. Both Cheechoo's goals were bang-bang plays, the kind that Cheechoo had better get used to.

"He's a guy that can change a game," said Cheechoo of his new centre. "You have to be always ready for the puck, always ready to get a shot off because he can make an impossible pass."

And Cheechoo can shoot with just about anybody.

"I don't think Joe knew who Jonathan Cheechoo was, in the sense that he scored 28 goals two years ago," said Wilson. "I know what it's like when you're on an eastern team: you don't really pay too much attention to the western teams. I think he'll be pleasantly surprised and that'll be a pretty good combination."

The spotlight that shines on Thornton in San Jose will be of rather lower wattage than the one he's accustomed to in Boston.

"I went through this phase with the Bruins," he said. "I'm just going to come in and play the way Joe Thornton plays. Hopefully it brings a spark and we win some games. There's always been a lot of pressure on me playing in an Original Six city.

"It's going to be nothing different for me."

Tonight, the post-trade circus comes to Toronto, where Thornton is no stranger but his teammates certainly are. He's already played four times against the Leafs as a member of the Bruins. The rest of the Sharks? They might as well be from another planet, given the scheduling that provides one meeting every few years.

Once tonight is over and done with, the Leafs themselves will be happy enough to have Thornton out of sight, too, tucked away on the left coast.


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