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Mike Brophy: Where's the spark between Thornton and Cheechoo?

MIKE BROPHY The Hockey News

Where is the magic? That is what I wonder every time I watch the San Jose Sharks play this season. It's not that they are off to a bad start. On the contrary, they have won 10 and lost five of their first 15 games, good for fifth best in the Western Conference. But they don't look like world-beaters and certainly not like a shoe-in to win the Western Conference championship, the way many predicted prior to the start of the season they would.

Even worse, that spark that existed between Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo has faded. Where the two were virtually unstoppable last season - Thornton was the NHL's most valuable player and top point producer with 125 in 81 games and Cheechoo won the Rocket Richard Trophy with an NHL-high 56 goals - this year they have been less than spectacular. Thornton has just two goals and 18 points in 15 games and is on pace for 11 goals and 98 points. Cheechoo, meanwhile, has five goals and 12 points and is on pace for 27 and 66. On top of that, Cheechoo is minus-8 and Thornton minus-5.

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That doesn't mean things can't change. Nor does it mean that the Sharks hopes lie in the hands of just two players. They have a great 1-2 punch in goal with Vesa Toskala (sixth in goals-against average with a 2.12 and eight in save percentage at .930) and Evgeni Nabokov (ninth in GAA with 2.31 and 13th in SP at .914) and very steady defence featuring the likes of veterans Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren along with hot-shot rookie Matt Carle.

But if the Sharks are going to challenge for the Western crown, Thornton and Cheechoo are going to have to kick it up several notches. There is a still a long season ahead, but it's never too early to get their acts together.

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