SUNRISE, Fla. (AP)—Alyn McCauley was a prolific scorer in junior hockey, but the goals haven’t come as easily in the NHL.
“In junior I had a few of them,” McCauley said of his hat trick, “but it’s been a while.”
McCauley led the Ontario Hockey League with 56 goals during the 1996-97 season. He made it to the NHL with Toronto in 1997.
“We wanted to keep pushing and stick with the system,” Cheechoo said. “We knew everything would come around.”
“It’s the hardest one to get,” Horton said. “I’d rather it be in a win, that’s for sure.”
Evgeni Nabokov made 27 saves in winning for the first time in 16 starts, a streak dating to last season.
“It was a good game for Nabby,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. “It seemed that he went 17 in a row without a win, so now that pressure is off and he can relax. We talked about just stopping the puck and not doing too much, and he was pretty calm out there.”
Steve Shields made his second consecutive start in goal for Florida, but he struggled against his former team. Shields, who played for San Jose from 1998-2001, finished with 14 saves. He gave up three goals on nine shots in the first period, and his misplay behind the net in the second gave San Jose its fifth goal.
Shields hesitated as he went to play the puck, and Scott Thornton took it away from him and fed Cheechoo, who scored into an open net for the first of his two goals.
“The one I gave away, the fifth goal, was definitely my responsibility,” Shields said. “I take responsibility for all the goals. You play at home and allow this many goals, the responsibility goes to the goaltender.”
McCauley, acquired from Toronto in March for four-time All-Star Owen Nolan, had never scored more than one goal in his first 330 NHL regular-season games.
“The last few games I’ve been getting a lot of good scoring opportunities,” said McCauley, who scored two goals for Toronto in a 2002 playoff game against Ottawa. “Tonight I got those chances and they went in the back of the net.”
McCauley completed his hat trick when he took Marco Sturm’s pass from behind the net and beat Shields with a quick shot from the slot.
McCauley opened the scoring at 2:07 when he one-timed Sturm’s pass from the corner and beat Shields to the glove side.
His second goal came when he tipped Kyle McLaren’s slap shot from the point.
“It’s nice for the guys who work the hardest to get rewarded like Alyn McCauley,” Wilson said. “Jonathan Cheechoo always gives you 100 percenteffort and it’s nice to see those guys get rewarded.”
Panthers RW Valeri Bure, who practiced Friday, missed his 11th consecutive game because of a groin injury. … Sharks C Vincent Damphousse’s first-period assist helped him tie Bobby Hull for 39th place on the NHL’s career scoring list with 1,170 points. … Florida C Byron Ritchie injured his knee in the first period and didn’t return. … The Panthers, who won at Ottawa in their previous game, haven’t followed a road victory with a home victorysince March 2001.