Maybe Joe Thornton reads The Hockey Writers.
On August 9th, I wrote an article entitled “Joey the Kid Needs Six Shooter to Tame the Wild, Wild West”. The piece postulated upon the San Jose Sharks’ need for Jumbo to increase the number of shots he takes per game in the wake of the team’s various trades and transactions during the offseason. In a series of moves, top-six offense was sacrificed in order to obtain bona fide #1 defenseman Brent Burns, along with clearing cap space to sign him to a long-term contract.
San Jose’s improvement
There is little debate that the various changes strengthened the team overall, but the team’s offensive firepower was arguably diminished, as former 50-goal sniper Dany Heatley and speedy winger Devin Setoguchi were shipped to the Minnesota Wild in separate deals during a fast-and-furious ten day period. Shifty right winger Martin Havlat was acquired to offset some of the lost offense, and Brent Burns is a mobile man-mountain with a Howitzer shot from the blue line. However, the net effect was an improved defense and (in theory) penalty kill, but potentially fewer goals from a team that ranked sixth in the NHL in that department in 2010-11.
Thornton the play-maker
Enter Jumbo Joe and his long-dormant shot. Sounds like a pop-up book for preschoolers.
Joe Thornton has won his share of hardware during his thirteen-season NHL career: the Art Ross Trophy (2005-06), the Hart Trophy (2005-06), an Olympic Gold Medal for Team Canada (2010), along with being named to six All Star teams. However, although he has reached 20 goals twelve times during his career, his game has evolved into that of of a play-maker since his years with the Boston Bruins. The quality isn’t the best, but check out the incredible no-look pass here:
Over the past three seasons, Thornton’s shot totals have ventured into Matt Cullen territory: an average of 143 shots per year. The goals have been respectable (25, 20, 21), but given the issues referenced earlier, respectable just won’t do anymore.
Fast forward to this season. After reading (maybe) my The Hockey Writers article exhorting him to shoot more, Thornton got himself revved up during the preseason, lathered up like a defensive end bearing down on the quarterback, and metaphorically roared out of the gate. He recorded 16 shots during the first five games of the year, and although the pace has fallen off since, he’s still substantially above the level of the previous three years. If he keeps it up, expect to see a lot more of this:
Sharks versus Kings
Last night’s game between the veteran Sharks and the upstart Los Angeles Kings was a microcosm of the metamorphosis of
Thornton, with results Sharks’ fans hope to see with regularity before this season is completed. Coming into the game, the Sharks had lost two of their previous three: 5-2 to the New York Rangers and 4-3 in overtime to the annoying, pesky Nashville Predators. After that last game, Nashville coach Barry Trotz said: “It was a big comeback. They put a lot of pucks on the net in the first period but we stayed resilient, and Leggy (Legwand) — deservedly so — gets the winner.”
The Kings had fared even worse in recent games, having lost four straight: 3-2 to Phoenix in overtime, 3-2 to Colorado, 3-0 to Edmonton and 3-2 to Pittsburgh in the shootout. After the Pittsburgh loss, Kings’ defenseman Matt Greene said, “We’re playing well and I thought tonight was a good game for us. Sometimes that the way it goes in a shootout. Not much you can do. We want to win every game and go out and get two points every night, but that’s not going to happen.”
The Kings came out and dominated the first period, controlling the pace and firing 14 shots on Antti Niemi, all of which were turned aside. The Sharks managed just seven on Jonathan Quick, and after one period, the game was scoreless. “I thought we outplayed them in the first,” Quick said. “It was probably one of our best periods of the year.”
However, San Jose pushed up the throttle in the second and throttled Los Angeles in the process.
After a power play goal by the Kings’ Jack Johnson to open the scoring at 6:19, the Sharks scored three straight goals in the period. Jumbo continued to heed my advice and put the puck on the net on the backhand from in-close, scoring his fourth of the season. Patrick Marleau executed a beautiful redirection of a Dan Boyle pass for his fourth of the year at 12:35, and Boyle scored his own goal at 17:02, blasting a shot from the slot past Jonathan Quick for the 3-1 lead. “Sometimes those pucks bounce around, so it was nice to get rewarded finally for putting the puck on net”, said Boyle.
In the third period, Logan Couture tallied his sixth of the season, sweeping the puck past Quick and into the net. Anze Kopitar scored his eighth of the season on the power play less than two minutes later, collecting the rebound of his own shot and putting it home. However, Los Angeles could get no closer and when the horn sounded, San Jose had triumphed, defeating Los Angeles 4-2.
“It’s one of our more complete games,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “There were still segments in the game, but it’s hard to paint the perfect picture. I thought we recovered when we were pushed. We found ways to get back into the game when we were behind. Everybody got a chance to contribute, so it was a complete game, or as close as we’ve come to one.”
Shoot to kill
Thornton peppered Jonathan Quick with five shots on net, and ended the game with an enviable stat line: 1G, 1A, +2, 5 shots, 20:34 of ice time, playing in all situations, including 4:16 on the penalty kill. On pace for 201 shots, Thornton is providing just the right amount of offensive pressure the team needs this season. The proof is in the statistics, as the Sharks have managed to maintain their ranking as the NHL’s sixth-best offense. No problem, Joe, you’re welcome. Keep reading.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.