Joe Thornton

Five Thoughts: Relaxing on Jumbo Joe’s “choker” label and Canucks collective madness

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After a wild night that saw yet another series move on to a Game 7 and another series wrap up in dramatic fashion, we’re left with a lot to ponder and it’s good if your name is Joe Thornton and not so good if you’re a member of the Canucks or Penguins.

1. Look who decided to show up in a big spot, none other than Joe Thornton. For all the needling Thornton’s gotten for his lack of big play ability in the playoffs (97 games, 17 goals, 53 assists, 70 points) he shows up in overtime of an elimination game and puts away the Kings with the game winning goal.

For all the undue crap Thornton’s gotten in his career from his days in Boston on through to San Jose now (both fair for disappearing at times and unfair for playing through broken ribs), he gets the goal that moves the Sharks on to the next round where they’ll either be rewarded with a Predators team on fire or a Red Wings team that looks terrifying. Some reward. Still, Thornton’s play in this series made him one of the Sharks top producers (two goals, three assists). We’re not saying that Thornton’s reputation should be forgotten about or wiped clean, we’re just saying that maybe we should cut the guy a break.

2. It almost didn’t happen for Joe Thornton though as the Sharks had to kill off a five minute major at the end of regulation and to start in overtime after Jamie McGinn was sent off for charging Brad Richardson. At full speed and on first glance, the hit looked and sounded terrible. McGinn streaked in at Richardson from about 40-50 feet away and didn’t slow up at all in taking Richardson out. It’s as historically a dumb penalty as you’ll ever see but was it major worthy? After replays it certainly didn’t look that way and much of that is in part due to Richardson ducking his head out of the way at the last second.

That said, the ferocity of the hit, the speed of the play, and McGinn launching himself into Richardson all makes that initial call the right one even though hindsight says it was an overreaction. Officials don’t get that benefit though. The Sharks had the hockey gods on their side though as they killed off the penalty and won the game, but with everyone eager to condemn players for bad hits

3. As for people that might be due to eat a lot of criticism and for good reason, there’s Alain Vigneault, Mike Gillis and Roberto Luongo in Vancouver. Vigneault in announcing that Luongo would start Game 7 said that he told Luongo that he was starting the next game no matter what whether that was Game 7 or Game 1 of the second round. That’s awfully curious all things considered and it’s a bit of a peek at his confidence in Luongo. He’s either saying he felt that Cory Schneider would win Game 6 for them and Luongo was getting a quick vacation before the second round or that he was teaching him a lesson about sucking it up and dealing. Nice time of the year to do that. Luongo’s quotes in interviews yesterday sure made it seem like he wasn’t too eager to take the reins. Hoo boy.

As for Gillis, his tirade about how the officiating has been unfair all series (and Vancouver has been called for more penalties) is both a means for him to distract from the goaltending circus and a poorly timed effort to get the officials ears to call more in their favor. Good grief. If it works out, good for him. If not, the Canucks will have found a brand new way to embarrass themselves against Chicago.

4. Was it me or did Pittsburgh look awfully tired during Game 6 against Tampa Bay? Pittsburgh had good jump for about half the game but as time rolled along, the Lightning seemed to get stronger as the game moved along while the Penguins lost that ability to keep up. In Game 7 on Wednesday it’ll be a different setting and a desperate game for both teams, but given the way Tampa has looked in the last two wins, it’s not shaping up well for Pittsburgh. The Pens will need to play aggressive and on the edge of nasty the way Tampa did last night in defending home ice.

5. If Tampa Bay is to move on to the second round, the guy that will end up being the unsung hero for them after the first round is Ryan Malone. Malone, a former Penguin and Pittsburgh native, is playing with a certain edge and nastiness the rest of the Lightning team doesn’t necessarily have (aside from Steve Downie) and he’s relishing in the role of torturing and pestering his former teammates.

Whether he’s mixing it up after the whistle, committing questionable hits on Maxime Talbot, or shoving Penguins defensemen into Marc-Andre Fleury he’s gotten under their skin. Whether or not he has to hear from the NHL for his hit on Talbot remains to be seen, but we’re expecting he’ll not be suspended, especially for a Game 7. We’re sure that there’s nothing more that Malone would love to do than oust his former team.

Colorado’s core is under heavy scrutiny, yet again

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 25: (l-r) Joe Sakic and Alan Hepple of the Colorado Avalanche attend the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Prior to Thursday’s loss to Columbus, Colorado GM Joe Sakic was asked how his core players have performed during an ugly 9-12-1 start to the year — “inconsistent,” he said — and was then asked he had any intention of breaking the core up.

“Not right now, no,” Sakic said, per the Denver Post. “It’s early in the year.

“I have faith in them, but to me, the start is not a core thing — it’s a team thing.”

Not long after Sakic said that, the Avs lost their fourth straight game, putting them on 19 points — tied with Arizona for the fewest in the NHL.

And then, in his first real bit of message-sending, head coach Jared Bednar took the core to task.

“I’m going to say this,” Bednar said in his postgame media availability. “Tonight, I thought our supporting cast did a real good job up front. I didn’t love some of our top guys tonight. Not that they didn’t work hard, but I didn’t love their game as a whole.”

The controversy surrounding Colorado’s core guys dates back to the Patrick Roy era. After missing the playoffs for a second straight year — which he called “unacceptable” — Roy unloaded on his top players in an April radio interview, saying “the core needs to show more leadership.”

“It was like this when I played for Montreal, it was like this when I played for the Avs,” Roy continued. “The core are the ones that have to carry the team. They’re the ones where, when you lose a game, it has to hurt from the inside. You should want more.”

At this point, it’s probably prudent to identify exactly who comprises the Avs’ core. The Post says it’s “generally considered to be six players, now all tied up to long-term contracts.” Six of the longest-term contracts on Colorado’s books belong to Nathan MacKinnon (signed through 2023), Erik Johnson (2023), Gabriel Landeskog (2021), Tyson Barrie (2020), Matt Duchene (2019) and Semyon Varlamov (2019).

Carl Soderberg, signed through 2020, could be seen as the potential seventh member.

Roy clearly wanted to move on from at least some of these guys, and the fact Sakic didn’t was a major reason why Roy abruptly resigned in August. But it wasn’t that Sakic just keep the core intact — he actually strengthened his commitment to it by giving Barrie a four-year extension this summer, at a time when many figured the puck-moving blueliner would be dealt.

In light of that, it’s not really surprising that Sakic came out yesterday and publicly defended his core guys.

He’s sticking to his guns.

For now, anyway.

Like the Blackhawks, the Ducks have a youth movement of their own

Anaheim Ducks' Ondrej Kase, center, of the Czech Republic, celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks with Ryan Getzlaf, left, Nick Ritchie, front right, and Cam Fowler, back, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columba. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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The Anaheim Ducks, after a fairly unimpressive start under new/old coach Randy Carlyle, are slowly but surely beginning to find their game. The Ducks dominated the Canucks last night in Vancouver, a 3-1 triumph that came after consecutive victories in San Jose and at home to Montreal.

Last night’s game-winning goal was scored by Ondrej Kase, a 21-year-old rookie forward from the Czech Republic who was playing only his eighth NHL game.

That’s worth mentioning, because the Ducks have been forced to introduce a number of young forwards into their lineup, after losing the likes of David Perron, Chris Stewart, and Jamie McGinn to free agency, and while Nate Thompson remains sidelined with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Carlyle was asked if his lineup needed some fresh blood anyway, after last season’s disappointing first-round playoff exit.

“Well, if we did or didn’t, it was budget,” he said. “Simple as that. So that’s the way the hockey world works. You can’t maintain the level of player and the pay scale when you have talent in your lineup that grows. So you always have to have a fresh supplement of talent, and they have to be entry-level people.”

The Ducks, of course, had to give significant raises to a couple of their young stars, Rickard Rakell and Hampus Lindholm.

     Read more: With Lindholm signed, Ducks GM hopes to keep team together

Kase, a seventh-round draft pick in 2014, is just one of the rookie forwards who’ve played for the Ducks this season. Joseph Cramarossa is another. Nick Ritchie isn’t a rookie, but he’s still on his entry-level deal.

“We’re still very much so a work in progress from the standpoint that we haven’t found a niche for every player,” said Carlyle. “You know, big Ritchie’s been a good player for us. … Cramarossa basically coming in and earning a spot in training camp. Kase. Those are decent entries into our lineup and we don’t have to play them too high. And that really helps when you don’t have to put them into your top-six forward grouping.”

That’s because the Ducks still have veterans like Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Corey PerryJakob SilfverbergAndrew Cogliano, and Antoine Vermette.

The Ducks, in that way, are a lot like the Chicago Blackhawks, who’ve been forced to an even larger extent to insert fresh blood into their lineup. It’s been a work in progress for Chicago as well. Though the ‘Hawks have been winning a lot of games, they’ve been heavily reliant on their veterans for goals. Whether they can become a consistent three- or four-line threat by springtime remains to be seen.

In fact, for both teams, that question may very well determine how far they go in the playoffs.

Because like Carlyle said, for teams to remain successful in today’s NHL, there has to be that constant supply of young talent. The Pittsburgh Penguins, with their contributions from all the Baby Pens, proved that again last season.

When that supply runs out, well, did you see the team the Ducks played last night? There’s a reason the Canucks are no longer among the league’s elite. Their supply ran out for a few years, and it’s only starting now to be replenished.

Abdelkader out 2-4 weeks as another — yes, another — injury hits Detroit

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 15: Justin Abdelkader #8 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 15, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Red Wings 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Injuries are a part of the game. But in Detroit, they’re becoming a fabric of the team.

On Friday, the Red Wings announced that burly power forward Justin Abdelkader would miss the next 2-4 weeks with a MCL sprain (per the Free Press), suffered in last night’s OT loss to Florida.

Abdelkader — who has four goals and eight points through 22 games this season — was averaging 16:26 TOI per night prior to getting hurt. He’d also been heating up lately after a slow start to the year, with four points in his last six contests.

As mentioned in the headline, this is just the latest in a series of injuries to hit the Wings:

Andreas Athanasiou has been out since Nov. 11 with a knee injury.

Darren Helm has been out since Nov. 17 with a shoulder issue.

Jimmy Howard hasn’t played since Nov. 25 due to a groin strain.

Alexey Marchenko was placed on IR last week with a shoulder problem of his own.

Brendan Smith is out four weeks with a knee injury.

Tyler Bertuzzi is out 3-5 weeks with a high ankle sprain.

The club is expected to make another recall from AHL Grand Rapids to fill the Abdelkader void. Leaning on the Griffins has been a common trend this year — in last night’s game against the Panthers, both Anthony Mantha and Ryan Sproul saw significant playing time.

Gudbranson threatened Martin in a ‘fit of rage,’ didn’t really mean what he said

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Erik Gudbranson didn’t really mean it. He doesn’t actually intend to kill Matt Martin.

“That was kind of a spur of the moment,” Gudbranson said Thursday. “I was walking to the dressing room. I was just frustrated. That was a tough night. Do I mean anything I said? Absolutely not. That’s outrageous. That’s just kind of a fit of rage. Unfortunately, it got blown up to that proportion.”

Gudbranson, of course, was heard saying, “Matt Martin’s dead,” after his Vancouver Canucks got thumped, 6-3, in Toronto on Nov. 5. Martin, the big Maple Leafs forward, had gone after Canuck rookie Troy Stecher in the boisterous affair, which had also featured a controversial Nazem Kadri hit on Daniel Sedin, among a few other things.

The Canucks have a rematch with the Leafs Saturday in Vancouver.

Gudbranson was asked if he’d heard anything from the league ahead of the game. He hadn’t, personally, but his general manager, Jim Benning, was contacted, and then Benning relayed the message to Gudbranson.

The message is obviously that the league will be watching closely.

The Canucks, currently missing their two best defenseman, had one of their worst performances of the season Thursday, falling 3-1 to the Ducks at Rogers Arena. So they should be doubly motivated to play well Saturday against the visitors from Toronto.

“That’s a good hockey team that spanked us in their own building,” Gudbranson said of the Leafs. “Our main focus, and especially mine, is coming out and getting two points. That’s the best way to hurt them. We need to be ready for a big tilt.”