GAME: Columbus Blue Jackets (12-26-1) at San Jose Sharks (16-16-5).
TIME: Thursday, 10:30 p.m. EST.
Since Joe Thornton joined the San Jose Sharks, his play has mirrored his team's success. The Sharks hope their top center can build on a big performance in his last game and lead them to a second straight win when they face the Columbus Blue Jackets.
When Thornton was traded from the Boston Bruins to the Sharks on Nov. 30 in exchange for forwards Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau and defenseman Brad Stuart, it sparked a season-high six-game winning streak for San Jose.
Thornton then went through a season-high six-game goal drought, and San Jose went 1-5 during that span.
Friday night, however, Thornton had two goals and an assist to lead the Sharks to a 5-2 victory over Colorado, snapping San Jose's four-game slide. Thornton's performance gave him 21 points (five goals, 16 assists) in December, tying Kelly Kisio for the franchise record for points in a month.
The Sharks, who face Columbus after being off for five days, outshot the Avalanche 43-22, their highest shot total since Nov. 19.
"We said from the get-go that we don't play for six days and we need to come out, start strong and finish strong," said Thornton, who lost three teeth after taking a high stick to the mouth, but didn't miss a shift.
Nils Ekman notched his first multipoint game of the season with a career-high four assists for San Jose, while Scott Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo each added a goal.
"It was one of our best efforts," said Cheechoo, who had an NHL-leading 13 goals in December, one shy of the team record. "We've struggled in the last four or five games so it was nice to come back like this."
The Blue Jackets had their three-game winning streak snapped with a 5-2 loss to Detroit on Saturday. Rick Nash and Jason Chimera staked the Blue Jackets to a 2-0 lead before they gave up five unanswered goals.
"It was great to have a 2-0 lead. Then we made some mistakes and they capitalized on them," said Blue Jackets center Sergei Fedorov, who spent his first 13 seasons in Detroit. "We had a few chances. Not as many as they, but we didn't score. It was a tough break. I don't think we played as well in the second as the first."
Columbus was outshot 43-15, its worst deficit of the season, and shut out on the power play for the third straight game. Goaltender Pascal Leclaire left the game with a neck injury in the second period and was replaced by Marc Denis, who gave up all five goals.
Blue Jackets captain Adam Foote, placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a hip injury, is eligible to be activated Thursday.
The Sharks boast a 13-4-0-1 record against the Blue Jackets, including 8-0-1 in San Jose. Columbus will be making the third stop on its season-high five-game road trip.
STANDINGS (through Jan. 4): Blue Jackets - 25 points, 4th place (tied), 30 PB, Central Division. Sharks - 37 points, 5th place, 17 PB, Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Blue Jackets - Nikolai Zherdev, 11 goals; David Vyborny, 15 assists and 22 points; Jody Shelley, 78 PIM. Sharks - Cheechoo, 20 goals; Thornton, 40 assists and 54 points; Mark Smith, 53 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 4): Blue Jackets - Power play: 11.3 percent (26 for 230), 30th in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.6 percent (223 for 270), 13th. Sharks - Power play: 16.4 percent (37 for 225), tied for 19th. Penalty killing: 80.9 percent (148 for 183), tied for 19th.
GOALTENDERS: Blue Jackets - Denis (7-15-0, 1 SO, 3.25 GAA); Leclaire (2-8-1, 3.84). Sharks - Evgeni Nabokov (8-11-5, 3.06); Vesa Toskala (3-4-0, 3.94).
SEASON SERIES: 1-1.
LAST MEETING: Oct. 21, 2005; Blue Jackets, 4-1. At Columbus, Ohio, Jason Chimera scored twice while Marc Denis made 24 saves to lift the Blue Jackets.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blue Jackets - 4-15-1 on the road; Sharks - 10-4-3 at home.