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By Michael Rushton, Contributing NHL Editor

(Sports Network) - A catalyst can be defined as something that significantly speeds up an action or a change. And if you look up the word catalyst in any dictionary located in San Jose, you would see a picture of Joe Thornton.

The San Jose Sharks seemed destined to sink to the bottom of the tank last year as a 10-game losing streak to close out November was quickly demoralizing the squad. It was the club's longest losing skid since dropping 13 straight late in the 1992-93 season.

However, on the same day San Jose's losing streak hit double-digits, management shipped forwards Wayne Primeau and Marco Sturm and defenseman Brad Stuart to Boston to obtain the franchise's first real superstar.

All Thornton did was help lead San Jose into the playoffs and top the league in scoring en route to capturing his first Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's Most Valuable Player.

The former Bruin immediately found chemistry with winger Jonathan Cheechoo, who went on to score a league-high 56 goals -- with the majority coming after Thornton's arrival.

However, the Cinderella story came to an end in the second round of the playoffs after the Oilers ousted the Sharks in six games.

Part of the reason San Jose made an early exit in the playoffs was due to a poor special teams execution. The club ranked 23rd in the league in penalty killing (80.7 percent) and was just 11th on the power play.

That wasn't good enough to get it done in the postseason. For example, against the Oilers in Game 6, San Jose was shut out 2-0 and went 0-for-8 on the power play.

FORWARDS - Fewer teams in the league boast a better, experienced scoring duo than the Sharks.

Also, lost in the shuffle was captain Patrick Marleau, who posted career highs last season in goals (34), assists (52) and points (86). He also netted nine goals in 11 playoff games.

Gone is Thornton's cousin, Scott, as the Sharks declined to pick up the forward's option. This means more responsibility for emerging forwards Steve Bernier and Milan Michalek, who combined for 31 goals and 62 points last season.

San Jose acquired left wing Mark Bell from Chicago in the offseason in exchange for defenseman Tom Preissing and forward Josh Hennessy. Bell is expected to round out the first line with Thornton and Cheechoo.

Free agent additions Curtis Brown and Mike Grier add depth to the third line. Grier is also expected to help out with San Jose's penalty killing.

DEFENSE - Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren are the experienced ones on the d-line while Christian Ehrhoff and Matthew Carle will bring youthful energy.

Carle could be the most exciting to skate the blue line. He had three goals and three assists in 12 games and will most certainly play in his first full season this upcoming year. His ability to join the attack and control the puck fits in well with the new NHL.

San Jose also added former Capital Mathieu Biron in the offseason.

GOALTENDING - The Sharks ran into an unforeseen goaltending controversy last season.

Both Vesa Toskala and Evgeni Nabokov saw significant playing time last year for one reason or another and it was Toskala who unseated Nabokov as San Jose's starting goaltender.

Toskala turned in a 2.56 goals-against average with a .901 save percentage in 37 games while Nabokov posted a 3.10 GAA and a .885 save percentage in 45 appearances.

So it was Toskala who manned the net for the postseason and his numbers were very good. In 11 games, the Finland native had a 2.45 GAA.

While both players are still on the roster, it is possible one will be dealt -- most likely Nabokov -- before the season starts. If that happens, young netminder Nolan Schaefer would slide into the backup role.

http://146.145.120.3/default.asp?c=hockeynews&page=nhl/news/ADN4042167.htm
 
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