SAN JOSE, Calif. — Joe Thornton is being asked to take on a bigger role these days.
And at 40, Jumbo Joe has responded.
Thornton scored and moved into a tie for 11th place on the NHL’s career list for games played as the San Jose Sharks defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 on Thursday night.
Thornton, who notched his second goal of the season, appeared in his 1,612th NHL game — tying him with Ray Bourque.
“He surprises me every night with something else,” interim Sharks coach Bob Boughner said. “I’ve increased his minutes and he’s responded positively to that.”
Boughner acknowledged he’ll need more from Thornton and the rest of his team after San Jose announced Wednesday that centre Logan Couture will miss approximately six weeks with a fractured ankle.
“One of those guys who’s got to fill the shoes of Couture,” Boughner said. “I thought Jumbo did that tonight.”
Kevin Labanc scored a goal and had an assist, Brent Burns had a goal, and Aaron Dell turned back 30 shots for the Sharks, who improved to 4-2-2 over their last eight games after going 1-8-1 over their previous 10.
“First home game in a couple weeks, guys were rolling, it was nice, good shifts, everyone was working hard on the forecheck,” Labanc said.
“That’s how we’ve got to play the rest of the season.”
Sonny Milano scored his fifth goal for Columbus, which had its point streak in road games snapped at nine, going 6-0-3 over that stretch.
Labanc broke a scoreless tie with his 10th goal at 1:01 of the second. He was in the slot when he picked up a loose puck and fired it past Elvis Merzlikins.
Thornton scored on a power play from the top of the face-off circle midway through the second to extend San Jose’s lead to 2-0.
Milano scored an unassisted goal for Columbus with 1:48 left in the second.
A turnover by Burns deep in San Jose’s end set up Milano’s fifth goal.
Burns scored his eighth goal early in the third after rebounding a shot by Labanc just outside the crease.
Merzlikins had 30 saves.
“A big part of the night was that we didn’t get a sustained forecheck going the very end of the game,” Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno said. “They got to play to their strengths, which is spreading out. They ran us around a little bit in our end. They really funnel a lot of pucks to the net, so it gets you scrambling. We just didn’t put ourselves into position to forecheck. It seems like we had to really rally to get back into game and not let them score in third period.”
Brendan Dillon, Evander Kane, Barclay Goodrow and Erik Karlsson each had one assist for San Jose.
“Both teams gave up a lot of chances,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “We weren’t sharp out there. We didn’t sustain any consistent forechecking. My concern right now is the start of every period; it’s an epidemic … They started really fast on us in the first. In the second, they score goals in the second period and then put us away after we killed the penalty off.
“They scored on that and that’s what bothers me the most. That hurts to kill a penalty off and then get scored on right away.”
NOTES: Tortorella coached his 1,032nd NHL game, passing Mike Babcock for 12th on the NHL’s career list. … Former Sharks F Gustav Nyquist played against his former team for first time since signing a four-year contract with Columbus in July. … Columbus was looking to match its second longest road point streak in team history. The Blue Jackets longest road point streak is 11. … San Jose recalled F Joachim Blichfeld the San Jose Barracuda, the team’s AHL affiliate.
Blue Jackets: At Vegas on Saturday.
Sharks: Host Dallas on Saturday.
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Gideon Rubin, The Associated Press