Sharks pounce with the power-play in 3-1 victory over Avalanche

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"Of course, it really helps to have Joe Thornton on the power play, too," the San Jose captain said. Marleau had a goal and two assists, and the Sharks' vaunted power play produced every score in a 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night.

All-stars Jonathan Cheechoo and Thornton also scored for the Sharks, who have won six of seven on the strength of the NHL's best power play. San Jose leads the league with 63 power-play goals while scoring more than 25 per cent of the time, and Colorado's penalty-killers were beaten three times while the Sharks took a season-high 42 shots.

Thornton controls the action from his usual spot halfway up the boards, distributing cross-ice passes and forcing defences into gambles and mistakes. The reigning league MVP was on the ice for all three scores against the Avalanche, and he received the bulk of the credit from Marleau and Cheechoo.

"With him out there, it opens up so many different options," Marleau said. "He makes everything easier."

Combine that with perhaps the Sharks' best first-period performance of the season, and it's easy to see why Colorado coach Joel Quenneville was praising goalie Peter Budaj for allowing the Avalanche to keep it close.

"Peter was the only chance to keep the score from becoming real ugly," Quenneville said. "That first 20 minutes was pretty scary. They've got a lot of speed and some skill, and that top line can be a handful, as the league saw last year. They're real dangerous right now."

The Sharks, who opened a three-game homestand before the all-star break, have 15 man-advantage goals in four home games, giving them a league-best 38 in San Jose this season. Though Ron Wilson's team doesn't run a revolutionary power-play scheme, the coach and his assistants have figured out how to put their stars in the right places to shine.

"Our power play was cooking," Wilson said. "We've had some great nights on the power play, but our movement tonight was phenomenal."

Evgeni Nabokov made 26 saves in his first victory since Dec. 23 for the Sharks, but Budaj stopped 39 shots in another outstanding performance for Colorado. Captain Joe Sakic scored a power-play goal in the third period, and the Avalanche lamented their own slow start.

"The first period must have been our worst period of the whole year," said right winger Ian Laperriere, who fought Ryane Clowe in an effort to spark his team. "With Thornton out there, everything seems to go right for them."

With Thornton's third-period goal, every member of the Western Conference's starting line at next week's all-star game scored a goal at the Shark Tank. Sakic, Thornton and Cheechoo will suit up together Jan. 24 in Dallas.

San Jose scored the opening goal for just the second time in its last 10 homes games when Cheechoo jumped on a rebound of Marleau's shot, banging it home from the slot early in the first period.

Marleau added another - his team-best 21st goal - 2½ minutes later, sliding the puck between Budaj's legs. The first-period deficit could have been much bigger with San Jose's 21-10 shot advantage, but Budaj made a handful of outstanding saves.

After a scoreless second period, Nabokov lost the chance at his 31st career shutout when Sakic scored on a faceoff just two seconds after Mark Smith took a penalty. Sakic has 66 points in 47 games against San Jose.

But Thornton put it away with a shot on a sharp feed from defenceman Matt Carle moments later.

Notes: Marleau had six shots in the first period, tying the franchise record. ... Colorado D Patrice Brisebois missed his ninth straight game because of a back injury. Struggling LW Antti Laaksonen was a healthy scratch. ... The Sharks scratched Marcel Goc due to an injured back. The defence-minded German centre hadn't missed a game all season, but was hurt in the third period of Saturday's game at Phoenix. ... The Sharks had their 10th consecutive sellout crowd. They've sold out 19 of the 24 games at the Shark Tank this season.