The mention of Joe Thornton's name drew an approving cheer before Tuesday night's Sharks-Atlanta Thrashers game. Bigger and more approving, in fact, than any of the Sharks' other five starters received.
And yet it wasn't fawning, desperate or overly sincere. It was a tip of the verbal cap, what you might call just perfect.
Thornton would have approved, had he heard it. Based on what he said before the game, his first in San Jose since being acquired from the Boston Bruins last Wednesday, he was likely too focused to gauge customer satisfaction.
"Just win the game," he said of his first face-to-face with his new fan base. "That's all I'm expecting."
As pregame mindsets go, it was just perfect.
Then the game began, and anticipation turned to gratification in less than three minutes. Skating on the power play, Thornton flicked a backhand centering pass that slipped past two defenders who seemed to have no idea the puck was coming until it was gone.
The puck wound up on the stick of Jonathan Cheechoo, who whipped it past Atlanta goalie Michael Garnett for a 1-0 lead on the way to a 5-3 victory. As passes, power plays and home debuts go, it was just perfect.
You'll never get the Sharks to agree, but the contention here is that San Jose is a perfect fit for Thornton, for two reasons. One, because it's San Jose. And two, because it's not Boston.
In Boston, Thornton was the first pick in the 1997 draft. He was the next link in a chain of success that dates back to 1929 and the first of the Bruins' five Stanley Cup championships.
In Boston, Thornton was going to be a Bobby Orr-type winner, a Phil Esposito-type scorer and a Ray Bourque-type working class hero.
Which is another way of saying that Thornton's chances of pleasing all of the people all of the time were slim. And slimmer still after four first-round ousters in his five postseasons in Boston.
In San Jose, it's enough that he makes a meaningful contribution.
"He's doing what he does," general manager Doug Wilson said after the first period, in which Thornton added a goal to his assist. Part of what he does is make people around him better. For example: The Sharks hit the five-goal mark Tuesday for third straight game since the trade, after doing it just four times in 24 games prior.
"Look, when you're a player like that, you put enough pressure on yourself," Wilson said. "The thing to remember is, he's just 26. The exciting thing to me is, we're getting a player with his best hockey ahead of him."
That's all the Sharks are asking of him at this point. Just be a little better tomorrow than you were today.
In other NHL action: Philadelphia 1, Calgary 0; Los Angeles 2, Toronto 1; Detroit 5, New Jersey 2; NY Islanders 6, St. Louis 3; Carolina 6, Anaheim 2.