Thornton scored on his own rebound with 4:37 left as the Sharks blew a third-period lead but rallied to tie the Phoenix Coyotes 4-4 Saturday night.
Paul Mara and Mike Sillinger put the Coyotes ahead with goals midway through the third period, but Thornton was left alone near the Coyotes’ net after a no-look pass from longtime linemate Mike Ricci.
Thornton, a 26-goal scorer two seasons ago, finally slipped the puck under Zac Bierk’s pads for his first goal. It was sweet relief for Thornton, who scored just nine goals last season while missing 41 games with injuries.
“I certainly want to get back to being an offensive force again, and this was a good start,” Thornton said. “I’ve been putting up a lot of shots the last few games and just coming up short. Any positives we can draw from these games are very important to us, because we’ve got seven road games coming up.”
San Jose went 0-2-3 on a five-game homestand, but another draw was better than losing to the Coyotes, who are winless in four straight (0-3-1). After two breakdowns in the Sharks’ defense handed third-period scoring chances to the Coyotes, Phoenix’s defense left Thornton alone at a crucial time.
“We’re going to make some mistakes because we have young people back there,” Phoenix coach Bob Francis said. “But it was nice to see the guys’ work ethic, and they got rewarded with a point.”
Kyle McLaren put San Jose up 3-2 late in the second period with his first goal in 100 games. Marco Sturm and Jonathan Cheechoo also scored for the Sharks, who haven’t won in seven home games dating to last season.
Not everybody in teal was happy about the tie.
“We were in complete control, and then it was like a runaway train,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. “We’re playing smart at the start of the third period, and then we end up with two plays in which our defensemen are caught up-ice. … I would think they wouldn’t even be expecting a breakdown like that, and we handed it to them.”
Mara jammed a loose puck between Evgeni Nabokov’s legs for the tying score midway through the third. During four-on-four play moments later, Sillinger beat Evgeni Nabokov with a wrist shot for his first goal of the season.
The Sharks peppered Phoenix’s third-string goalie with 45 shots—31 in the first two periods. One soft goal aside, Bierk was outstanding in his first start of the season, but the Coyotes have allowed 19 goals in their last four games.
“San Jose was playing desperate tonight,” Bierk said. “I understand they’ve blown a couple of leads in the last two games, so we knew they were going to come out hard. When it got bad, for the most part I thought we weathered the storm.”
Alyn McCauley had the best overtime scoring chance, but Bierk made a phenomenal glove save on a one-timer from the slot.
Nabokov made 31 saves for the Sharks, but the former Calder Trophy winner fell to 0-4-3 on the season.
McLaren hadn’t scored since Feb. 23, 2001—nearly a year before the trade sending McLaren from Boston to San Jose last January. The Sharks expected more offense from McLaren after trading Jeff Jillson and Niklas Sundstrom to acquire him.
The defenseman noticed his scoring drought while perusing the stat sheet before the game.
“We had a lot of chances to score, and toward the end of the game, we had some shots that could have gone either way,” McLaren said. “We’ve struggled for goals for some reason. Hopefully this road trip can remedy that.”
The Sharks couldn’t score with 1:50 of a two-man advantage in the first period, drawing loud boos from the fans in the half-full Shark Tank. Momentslater, Sturm and Cheechoo scored 36 seconds apart.
Both teams are carrying two backup goalies on their rosters behind starters Nabokov and Sean Burke, since all four would have to clear waivers before they could be sent to the minors. Bierk and Brian Boucher have played one game apiece; San Jose’s Vesa Toskala has played once, and Miikka Kiprusoff hasn’t appeared. … Sharks C Wayne Primeau returned to the lineup aftermissing three games with a groin injury.
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