Joe Thornton

Has Joe Thornton really ever been a ‘choker’ since he came to San Jose?

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More than a few people will be shocked to learn that Joe Thornton is currently tied for the playoffs scoring lead with 17 points. A lot has been made about Thornton destroying previous old notions about his supposedly inferior postseason play, but a breakthrough at this level still must raise a few eyebrows.

It’s not wrong to say that he’s dispelling old myths, but here’s the rub: those notions were shaky – if not totally inaccurate – in the first place.

Yes, it’s true that Jumbo Joe struggled in a few series earlier in his career with the Boston Bruins. Going pointless in two different series will give critics plenty of firepower and Thornton’s care-free attitude probably didn’t help matters. That weak-in-the-playoffs perception ultimately polluted any good feelings the Bruins held about the over-sized playmaker, leading to the lopsided deal that sent him to San Jose.

Since then, he’s actually been quite strong in each playoffs run with the Sharks, unless your only barometer for success is a Stanley Cup victory.

Thornton has been a steady playoff performer since being traded from Boston.

The Sharks were a middling bunch in their first post-lockout season until Thornton came along and powered them to a powerhouse level with his peerless passing. While linemates and opponents have changed over the years, two things haven’t: the Sharks/Thornton are still without a Stanley Cup victory and people still assume that Big Bird goes Fun Size in the postseason.

There’s little doubt that the 2011 playoffs have been the greatest, most demonstrative set of postseason games in Thornton’s career, but the difference is subtler than one might expect. Thornton has 12 goals and 52 assists for 64 points in 72 playoff games with San Jose, with the only “troubling” number being his -16 rating. (I think his 24 power-play points dulls the bitterness of some of that 5-on-5 play, anyway.)

Sure, Thornton seems more comfortable on the ice this year, but he’s also getting some fortunate bounces (for once?) and can rely on his teammates for more offensive support this time around. His increased luck might be best exemplified by the goal he scored against Roberto Luongo in Game 1.

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Now it’s true that Thornton’s playoff numbers typically pale in comparison to his regular season pace, but most high-scoring players see their averages drop in the playoffs. That’s what happens when every goal is much more crucial, defenses key on your tendencies and players clog up lanes by blocking shots with much greater frequency.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to take anything away from how special this postseason has been for Thornton. My point is simple: his improvement hasn’t been nearly as drastic as many would believe.

In the long run, it might come down to how we perceive his body language. To some, it would seem like a playoff monkey has been lifted off Thornton’s back. Then again, when it comes to the way people depict Thornton, it really has been all about perception. Perhaps we’ve just been imagining that monkey the whole time.

Leafs’ Corrado returns to Vancouver with a chip on his shoulder

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Just as the Vancouver Canucks are once again struggling through injuries and with their depth on defense a constant question mark, Frank Corrado returns to town with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It’s a quick visit. The Leafs and Canucks do battle on Saturday, with the hosts wearing their famous ‘Flying Skate’ logo from the 1990s.

But the return of Corrado with a different team provides a juicy storyline in Vancouver.

The Canucks waived the 22-year-old defenseman in October.

He was claimed by the Leafs, which ended his time in Vancouver when it previously started with promise and optimism.

He quickly ascended as a prospect after being selected in the fifth round five years ago. But when training camp rolled around this season, Canucks GM Jim Benning was of the belief that Corrado had been passed in the depth chart by a few other defensemen in the system.

The move has been criticized in Vancouver because the Canucks lost an asset — a 22-year-old right-shooting defenseman with potential — for nothing.

Corrado had some interesting things to say about how his time in Vancouver eventually played out, as per Josh Clipperton of the Canadian Press.

Two examples:

Corrado has played 10 games for the Leafs this season, with three assists. He made his Leafs debut more than two months after being claimed.

Video: Gaborik (lower-body) not expected to return after awkward collision

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The L.A. Kings are expected to be without forward Marian Gaborik for the remainder of Friday’s game against the New York Rangers.

Gaborik was involved in a collision with Dominic Moore at the Kings’ blue line late in the first period, and L.A. up 2-1.

Gaborik, 33, hobbled off the ice, favoring his left leg. In 53 games this season, Gaborik has 11 goals and 21 points.

 

Video: Bergeron questionable versus Wild; could that be the result of his latest fight?

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The Boston Bruins could be without Patrice Bergeron for Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Wild.

He’s currently listed as questionable, according to the Bruins. The details are sketchy right now, however Bergeron was involved in a fight with former teammate Blake Wheeler during Thursday’s game against the Jets, and didn’t play much in the third period — only four shifts and 3:15 of ice time.

(Granted, he did score in the third period, giving him 21 goals on the season.)

Why Bergeron was fighting is also worth debating.

Replays show Bergeron and Wheeler caught each other with a healthy slash in the neutral zone during the second period. A few minutes later, they squared up at center ice, with Wheeler landing a few heavy punches and a hard takedown.

“You don’t like seeing your star players (fight), but you also understand that it’s an emotional game and that stuff happens and at one point a player says, ‘Enough is enough and I’m going to stand up for myself,’” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said, as per the Boston Herald.

“From what I gathered there was a lot of slashes behind the legs behind the play and stuff like that. He took things upon himself. As much as you don’t like it, you can’t tell him he’s not allowed. He’s a big boy and he can certainly make some decisions on the ice. And it’s not the first time that he’s fought. But I like the fact that he doesn’t fight much.”

The Bruins are third in the Atlantic Division.

But with such a tight Eastern Conference playoff race, Boston needs Bergeron — considered one of the best two-way centers in the world — on the ice and in the lineup rather than dropping the gloves, which is something he doesn’t do often.

Bergeron has four career fights.

A potential loss for the Bruins could be a potential gain for the Wild.

Minnesota’s free fall continues. The Wild has won once in its last 10 games, and currently sits two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West.

 

Flyers staff give Gudas a talking to as questionable hits pile up

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1The list of questionable Radko Gudas hits — some of which he’s been suspended for and others he has escaped discipline — has grown again, prompting Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol to apparently have a chat with the 25-year-old defenseman.

There was no hearing for Gudas from his latest infraction, a major penalty for charging called against him for a hit on Buffalo Sabres rookie Daniel Catenacci on Thursday.

Catenacci has since been put on injured reserve, after he went through concussion protocol, as per John Vogl of the Buffalo News.

The NHL didn’t hand out supplemental discipline in this case, but the Flyers brass held a meeting of their own with Gudas, because hits like this could end costing Philadelphia results and precious points in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Flyers are four points out of a playoff spot.

“There’s a big picture to all of it in terms of our main concern,” Hakstol told CSN Philadelphia. “Our main goal right now is to do all the little things necessary to win hockey games.

“In keeping with that, how individually does everybody do their part to help us win games. That’s the basis of my conversation with Radko.”

In December, Gudas was suspended three games for a head shot on Mika Zibanejad. Earlier this month, he was given a major penalty and game misconduct for clipping in a game against the Habs, but escaped discipline for that, as well.

Gudas, who didn’t want to comment on the hit on Catenacci, also spoke with Flyers GM Ron Hextall about this latest incident.

Asked about that conversation, Gudas told reporters, “Just making sure I pay attention and not get suspended again and make a good hockey play or make a good hit.”