After missing 28 games since suffering a shoulder injury on Dec. 11 against Anaheim, Jeremy Roenick returned to the ice for the Sharks and provided a huge spark in the Sharks' 3-1 win over Atlanta on Saturday.
Roenick was credited with the primary assist on what turned out to be the game-winning goal by line-mate Jonathan Cheechoo.
The assist would also be Roenick's 700th of his career, but in the post-game interview, all JR could say was that he was "glad Cheechoo got the goal."
The appreciation for Cheechoo scoring simply shows the true testament of the type of player Roenick has been throughout his career. Even after reaching a milestone, all Roenick wanted to talk about was how Cheechoo finally got rewarded for all the hard work the Sharks' winger has put in this season.
It is no secret that Cheechoo has been a scapegoat by many fans this season for his low point totals but playing with JR might just turn that around.
San Jose welcomed back more than just their 500 career goal-scorer, as left-wing Jody Shelley and fellow center Tomas Plihal returned to the lineup as well.
With the fresh faces and the peculiar 1 p.m. start time in San Jose, the Sharks seemed a bit slow out of the gate.
Neither team scored in the first two periods as both goal-tenders showed they were on top of their game. Kari Lehtonen and Evgeni Nabokov helped out their defense with quality saves in the opening 40 minutes, but Lehtonen was clearly a lot busier than Nabokov.
The Sharks put up 19 shots in the first two periods to only 12 for Atlanta, as Lehtonen had to be sharp in net to keep the score knotted at zero.
However, despite the scoreless action in the first two periods, the fans did finally have something to cheer about when Jody Shelley of the Sharks dropped the gloves with the Thrashers' Boris Valabik at 14:43 of the second.
Both Shelley and Valabik were exchanging little jabs with their hand they used to grab a hold onto each other before Valabik started landing some quality right hand punches on Shelley.
But the decision would quite obviously go to Shelley as his quality hay-maker with the right hand hit Valabik square in the ear and knocked the Atlanta defenseman to a knee and the linesman broke them up.
Despite the game being scoreless for 40 minutes, the young crowd of fans attending "kid's day at the Shark Tank" didn't have to wait long into the final period before Ryane Clowe gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead.
After line-mates Joe Pavelski and Milan Michalek forced a turnover inside the Atlanta zone, Pavelski picked up a rebound that had gone into the corner and threw it towards the net.
Michalek got a stick on it before the rebound popped out to Clowe, who slid it into the open net as Lehtonen was out of position.
San Jose would increase their lead to 2-0 less than three minutes later. While on the man-advantage, head coach Todd McLellan threw out Roenick, Cheechoo and Grier to jump start what had been a rather ineffective power-play.
The gamble worked, as Roenick cashed in his 700th career assist on a huge goal by Jonathan Cheechoo. After jumping out on the ice, Roenick received a reverse pass around the Sharks net by Rob Blake and picked up speed as he hit the neutral zone.
Roenick's speed down the wing created a three-on-two rush and with Grier driving to the net down the center of the rink, JR fired a pass all the way across to Cheechoo who took the puck of his skate and onto his stick before firing a shot that beat Lehtonen through the 5-hole at 2:55 of the third.
Even though the two quick goals gave the Sharks the momentum, Atlanta would not quit. At the 6:46 mark of the third, the Thrashers would go on an extended 5-on-3 power-play when Mike Grier joined Joe Thornton in the penalty box for tripping Ilya Kovalchuk.
Atlanta would cash in for their only goal of the game while on this two-man advantage. Slava Kozlov fed a pass across the crease to Brian Little who chipped the puck past Boyle and into an empty net behind Nabokov to cut the deficit to one.
However, that would be all the scoring Atlanta would be able to muster as the Sharks killed off the remaining portion of Grier's penalty and minutes later went back to work with a power-play goal of their own.
With Thrashers top-defenseman Niclas Havelid in the box for hooking, the Sharks converted for their second power-play goal of the period.
After gaining control of the puck inside the Atlanta zone, Sharks' forward Devin Setoguchi's shot rebounded to Dan Boyle, who forced the puck to the net amongst heavy traffic.
The puck then squirted loose to Joe Thornton who was stationed by the side of the net and Thornton simply guided the puck past the line for one of the easiest goals of his career.
Thornton's 15th of the year would be the last tally on the score-sheet as the Sharks went on cruise control for the remainder of the third period.
Despite pulling their goal-tender with over a minute left, Atlanta could not muster any quality scoring chances down the stretch and the Sharks would win their third in a row, sweeping their three game home-stand.
The three game winning streak could not have come at a better time for the Sharks who had just completed a 1-1-3 road trip.
With Roenick, Shelley and Plihal back in the lineup with Brad Lukowich almost ready to return, the Sharks should be back running at full capacity when they start the road-trip Monday in Dallas to take on the Stars.
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