Sharks forward Jonathan Cheechoo determined to deserve all-star starting nod

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The way he's playing now, the San Jose Sharks forward seems to think he still has time to earn it. Though Cheechoo is far off the superstar statistics he posted last season, he will line up alongside teammate Joe Thornton and Colorado's Joe Sakic when the Western Conference all-stars take on the East next week in Dallas.

With just 16 goals, 17 assists and a minus-8 rating in 40 games, the hard-shooting wing doesn't have an all-star profile. The native of Moose Factory. Ont., was elected to the starting lineup through Internet fan voting that was a confirmation of his growing popularity - even if his numbers only recently got back to last year's lofty standards during an impressive seven-game scoring streak.

"Everybody knows I haven't had a great season, but I guess what I did last year has stuck with a lot of people," said Cheechoo, whose 33 points were good for 86th in the NHL entering Wednesday's games. "I'm grateful for that.

"My dad told me I was up there in the (voting), but I didn't even think this was the year I'd make my first all-star game."

Cheechoo surprised himself, his teammates and Sharks coach Ron Wilson when he scored 56 goals last season, winning the Maurice Richard trophy with the NHL's highest goal total in a half-decade. Playing on a line with Thornton, Cheechoo used his ever-ready shot to pound home a season's worth of impressive scores, including a club-record five hat tricks.

But the partnership was dissolved this season. Cheechoo has been bounced among several lines while Wilson tinkers with his lineup, and the inconsistency apparently fueled a few bad habits, including a tendency to linger on the ice too long during shifts.

Though the Sharks never questioned Cheechoo's effort, they worried he had lost sight of the simple game. Cheechoo agreed.

"I was overthinking things," he said. "I got away from what I had been doing.

"It's always a bunch of little things."

But Cheechoo has surged back to the top of his game in the last two weeks with a point streak that includes five goals and six assists. He has played a more complete game, and his presence on the power play along with Thornton and captain Patrick Marleau has led to some incredible numbers for the Sharks, who have won six of seven games during Cheechoo's tear.

During those seven games, San Jose has scored 19 power-play goals - the most for a team in any seven-game span since the Chicago Blackhawks scored 20 in November 1987. Though Thornton is the catalyst for that potent power play, Cheechoo's presence forces opponents to pay constant attention to two players at all times.

"You can tell when Cheech is out there because of all the positive things he does on the power play," Marleau said. "He does a great job of getting to the open area, and Joe does a great job of finding him. "You can tell they've still got that chemistry."

With two home games left before the all-star break, Cheechoo is hoping for a strong finish on the way to Dallas. The former AHL all-star played in a YoungStars game three years ago, but hasn't had the chance to go against the league's best.

"A lot of family is coming out," Cheechoo said. "I'm going to have to figure out how to get more tickets.

"It's probably going to be the toughest part of the weekend."


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