SAN JOSE -- A day after playing his first meaningful game in nearly nine months, Sharks center Joe Thornton said he couldn't complain about how his surgically repaired right knee felt.
"It's kind of nice to go through that first game to know whatever you did in the summertime paid off," Thornton said Thursday at the Sharks' practice facility. "A real good feeling. Been a long time coming."
Thornton played in three of San Jose's six preseason games, but Wednesday night's season-opening loss to the Anaheim Ducks was the 39-year-old's first competitive game since Jan. 23. That night, Thornton's right knee buckled in an awkward collision with former Sharks winger Mikkel Boedker, and the center tore his right ACL and MCL. It was the same injury in his left knee that he sustained, and eventually played on, in the previous season.
He underwent surgery in January and returned to practice with the team in March, and even participated in warm-ups during the postseason. Thornton hoped to return to the team at some point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but San Jose was eliminated in the second round against the Vegas Golden Knights.
In all, Thornton played 17:42 across all situations in his regular-season return on Wednesday, fifth-most among Sharks forwards. He was third in five-on-five ice time (15:04), just behind regular linemates Timo Meier and Joe Pavelski, respectively.
"I think, five-on-five, I felt great," Thornton told reporters. "I felt like we were in their end all night and had some good pop. It was a good sign."
Before head coach Peter DeBoer mixed up his lines in the third period, [close]. In the 8:43 Thornton, Meier, and Pavelski played with one another, the Sharks attempted 13 shots and allowed just two. San Jose didn't allow any scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick's counting, nor did Anaheim generate any expected goals, by Corsica Hockey's measure
Only five of the Sharks' attempts with the three on the ice were on frame, and none found the back of the net.The trio still had some kinks to work out, too. Thornton hit Pavelski with a pass across the seam, but the feed was slightly behind Pavelski and the puck bounced off of his stick into the crowd.
Thornton said they won't need long to get back on the same page.
"Maybe one or two games, but I thought [Wednesday] we had a lot of jump," Thornton said. "We had a lot of good momentum. The goals will come. It's one game, but I felt comfortable with both guys."
Thornton was back on a line Pavelski and Meier at the Sharks' final practice before a five-game road trip begins in Los Angeles on Friday. The trip will give Thornton his first chance to play in consecutive games on consecutive nights. since injuring his knee.
San Jose will play the New York Islanders on Oct. 8 and then in Philadelphia against the Flyers on Oct. 9. DeBoer said he'd have no reservations about Thornton's usage on the back end of the back-to-back, and the Sharks regulars will likely have a day off on Oct. 10.
Thornton isn't worried either.
"Oh, yeah," Thornton said, smiling, when asked if he felt comfortable playing in a back-to-back. "Yeah, I'm done talking about the knees. The knees feel great, I feel great."