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.

Report: Coyotes arena financing plan in trouble

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 09:  Fans line up outside of Gila River Arena before the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Winnipeg Jets on October 9, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Jets defeated the Coyotes 6-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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More bad news for the Arizona Coyotes in their quest to build a new arena and remain in the Phoenix area.

From the Arizona Republic:

A plan that would provide $225 million in public financing for a new $395 million Arizona Coyotes arena likely does not have the votes to pass the state Senate, key lawmakers told The Arizona Republic/azcentral Thursday.

Sens. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, and John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said they definitely were going to vote against the plan, while Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said there is little support among the chamber’s 13 Democrats. Meanwhile, Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said he had “serious reservations” about the plan that would allow the National Hockey League team to build an arena in downtown Phoenix or the East Valley.

It would take at least 16 votes to pass Senate Bill 1149 in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Republicans have a 17-13 advantage. Statements from those lawmakers make it appear unlikely that there is enough support to move the plan to the House.

A vote before the full Senate could occur next week.

The financing plan is being championed by Sen. Bob Worsley, a Republican.

“I’m not a hockey fan but I’m a business guy and I want to save any business of this magnitude from leaving and impacting thousands of jobs,” Worsley said earlier this month, per Arizona Sports. “We would go out of our way in the Legislature to see what we could do if there was a company considering leaving so it’s appropriate to say, ‘what can we do to help?’”

In light of today’s news, Worsley’s words do not bode well for the Coyotes, who have no intention of remaining in Glendale long term.

The team, still holding out hope, told the Republic, “There are a lot of moving parts in this legislative process and everything is malleable and open for discussion until the very end. We will continue to educate lawmakers about a complex project that creates a true public-private partnership and offers the Coyotes an economically viable solution to remain in the Valley for the long term.”

Related: Coyotes still ‘pretty confident’ of finding an arena solution

Weather forecast looks good for Penguins-Flyers

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Fireworks go off before the start of the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Pittsburgh set a new weather record today, with temperatures reaching a summer-like 76 degrees.

But it’s supposed to cool down considerably tomorrow, with only a chance of showers during the day — good news with the Penguins and Flyers set to play outdoors at Heinz Field.

Game time tomorrow is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET (on NBC).

“It’ll be fun, and what the weather is, because it’s unpredictable, is one of the great intriguing parts of putting on these games,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a radio interview, per the Post-Gazette.

The last time the Penguins played outdoors at Heinz Field, in the 2011 Winter Classic, the threat of rain forced the start time from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Tomorrow’s forecast from The Weather Network:

weather

Related: How to watch and stream Penguins-Flyers outdoor game

Blues extend Berglund — five years, $19.25 million

Patrik Berglund
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Just a few hours ago, we passed along reports that St. Louis was in extension talks with longtime forward Patrik Berglund.

Now, the deal’s done.

Per the Post-Dispatch, Berglund has signed a five-year extension worth $19.25 million. It’s a $3.85M average annual cap hit, up slightly from the $3.7M he’s making on his current deal.

Berglund, 28, was a pending UFA but made it clear he wanted to stick in St. Louis.

“I would like to still be a Blue,” Berglund said earlier this week, per the Post-Dispatch. “I think everybody in here and upstairs knows that I want to be a Blue, too.”

Berglund has spent his entire nine-year career in St. Louis, emerging as versatile forward that can play the middle or wing. He’s also found the back of the net 17 times this season, and is flirting with matching or surpassing the career-high 22 he scored back in ’10-11.

It’s a fair bit of term and financial commitment for the veteran Swede, who hasn’t cracked 40 points in six years. And there’s reason to suggest Blues fans might be irate dollars are being committed here, rather than in an effort to retain Kevin Shattenkirk.

That said, it’s not entirely surprising GM Doug Armstrong opted to retain Berglund. The Blues have undergone major changes over the last few seasons, jettisoning veterans like Barret Jackman, T.J. Oshie, Troy Brouwer, Brian Elliott and longtime captain David Backes.

With this new deal, Berglund will be in St. Louis through 2022. The only player signed on longer than that is Vladimir Tarasenko.

With this contract inked, attention will almost entirely focus on Shattenkirk. The pending UFA d-man is believed to be on his way out by the Mar. 1 trade deadline.

Habs need to ‘find their confidence,’ and they need to find it soon

Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien watches from the bench during the team's NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)
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All of a sudden the Montreal Canadiens aren’t such a sure thing to make the playoffs.

According to Sports Club Stats, a record of 8-10-3 in their final 21 games would put them in the danger zone. And the way things have been going, you can’t rule it out.

Last night, the Habs dropped a 3-0 decision to the Islanders at Bell Centre. They’re now 7-12-2 in their last 21, and 1-2-0 since Claude Julien took over as head coach from Michel Therrien.

It wasn’t a very fun night for the home team.

From the Montreal Gazette:

The boos started with about five minutes remaining in Thursday night’s game between the Canadiens and the New York Islanders, and they would have been louder if many fans hadn’t already made a beeline for the Bell Centre exits before John Tavares’s empty-net goal put an exclamation point on the Islanders’ 3-0 victory.

Captain Max Pacioretty said he wasn’t surprised by the fans’ negative reaction.

“We haven’t played good enough,” Pacioretty said after the Canadiens’ home record in February dropped to 0-4-1. “They pay good money to come watch us play and they deserve better.”

This morning, Julien juggled the lines at practice, hoping to find some more potent combinations ahead of Saturday’s big game in Toronto. He told reporters afterwards that the team has been better defensively, but now it’s time for the offense to improve.

“I think one of the big issues is probably our neutral zone transition, which hasn’t been very good,” Julien said. “It’s gotta be quick, you gotta have some support, and then you want to cross that blue line with some speed. Teams are going to stand you up; you gotta be able to retrieve those loose pucks.”

He then added, “Our transition game is important, but also the confidence of the players. They need to find their confidence to score goals. Today, we did some drills where they had outnumbered situations and they were able to score some goals.”

The mental state of the Canadiens will certainly be worth monitoring. As everyone knows, Montreal is not an easy market when things are going poorly. Last year’s collapse demonstrated that rather well.

“The more we talk about it, the more fragile we’ll be,” Pacioretty said. “At the end of the day, we’re playing hockey and we’ve played it all our lives. Guys have to find it. I don’t think excuses are possible now, guys just have to find their game.”