Joe Thornton

Blackhawks hand Sharks a harsh defeat

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The San Jose Sharks came into Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks with plenty of Joe Thornton-fueled distractions. It would be tough to blame Saturday’s 6-2 loss on Thornton, though.

When he scored his very fitting goal, he tied the game up 2-2.

It stayed that way through the second period, but things really fell apart in the final frame.

The Blackhawks scored four unanswered goals in that time period, generating a 17-9 shot advantage. Brandon Saad got the game winner while Patrick Sharp really made things out of reach with his second goal of the contest (his first tallies since January).

This loss was a painful one for Antti Niemi, who had been red-hot coming into today.

There wasn’t any word from the Sharks’ locker room – maybe someone was told to shut up? – but what can you really say after a loss like this?

(The distraction isn’t being blamed, if you’re wondering.)

One thing that could be said is that the Blackhawks are finding ways to win even without Patrick Kane … even if it isn’t always pretty:

There’s little denying how much this loss hurts the Sharks, too. According to Sports Club Stats, this defeat dropped San Jose’s odds of making the playoff by almost 10 percent.

Thornton, Doug Wilson and the rest of the Sharks organization may just have an uncomfortable amount of time to “talk” if they suffer more defeats like these.

Video: Joe Thornton scores a very Joe Thornton goal

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Hey, that Joe Thornton guy has really been flying under the radar lately, right?

Amid all the distractions as he seemingly bickers with San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson through the media, “Jumbo Joe” remains a force on the ice, including this very Thornton-esque goal:

In case you couldn’t tell, it was a fitting goal because the puck went off someone else’s stick (Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook was in the wrong place at the wrong time for Chicago) and went in.

There’s a chance that Brent Burns may actually have tipped it, too, as the official score has flip-flopped in that regard. Either way, Thornton is productive even if things remain pretty weird between the Sharks and their former captain.

Tensions rise in San Jose as Thornton says Wilson ‘needs to shut his mouth’ (Update: Wilson responds)

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Earlier today, we passed along what Sharks GM Doug Wilson told season-ticket holders about the organization’s decision to take away Joe Thornton’s captaincy, explaining that the “pressure and stress” of wearing the “C” caused Thornton to lash out at people.

Now, Jumbo has replied:

Update: Full Thornton quote, from Pollak

“I think Doug just needs to shut his mouth. I think that’s the bottom line. All I’ve got to say is I’ve been here every day working hard. I haven’t taken a sabbatical. He just needs to stop lying, shut his mouth.”

None of this sounds very good, or promising for a Sharks team that’s actually played well lately (winning four of its last five) despite an inconsistent season, which has them in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.

Update: Wilson’s response, per CSN Bay Area

“If [Thornton’s] got an issue, he knows exactly where I am, and I’ll be glad to talk to him about it. There’s zero issue here. I was asked a question at a season ticket holder function, and my response was to do my job and be accountable to our season ticket holders and tell the truth.

“It’s nothing I haven’t said before.”

‘Pressure and stress’ of captaincy caused Thornton to lash out at people, says Sharks GM

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In a candid Q&A with Sharks season-ticket holders prior to Thursday’s win over Nashville, San Jose GM Doug Wilson provided a glimpse into the organization’s reasoning for taking Joe Thornton’s captaincy away last summer.

“He cares about the game so much,” Wilson said, per the Mercury News. “The reason we took the ‘C’ off him … Joe carries the weight of the team on his shoulders, and he’s got such a big heart that when stress comes on him, he lashes out at people. It kind of impacts them.

“The pressure and stress, I felt, was getting to Joe. And I sat him down and said we need other players to step up and share this. He got it. He didn’t like it, but he got it and he understood it.”

Thornton, who inherited ‘C’ from Rob Blake in 2010 and spent four years as team captain, was embroiled in a bizarre leadership restructuring last offseason that began with losing the letter in late August — Patrick Marleau was stripped of his alternate captaincy as well — only for the team to re-name Thornton to the leadership group at the end of training camp in October, making him one of four alternates for the season (along with Marleau — who was re-instituted — Joe Pavelski, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.)

The Sharks responded with an inconsistent campaign that currently sees them in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. Head coach Todd McLellan has repeatedly questioned the team’s identity and, in mid-February, gave a curious interview to Sportsnet’s Fan 590, in which he said the Sharks were “better led” this season without a captain than they were with Thornton in charge last year.

“The situation of removing the ‘C’ from certain individuals isn’t an ideal one, but what we’ve got is what we wanted,” McLellan explained. “We have different people stepping up. We have leadership by committee.

“In fact, this year I believe we’re better led than we were last year without having a ‘C’ on. And that’s not an indictment on Joe Thornton by any means.”

But it sure sounds like an indictment now, especially in light of what Wilson told ticket holders yesterday.

Related: Sounds like San Jose handled stripping Thornton’s captaincy really well

NHL on NBCSN: Sharks hope to keep playoff dream alive by beating Penguins

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the San Jose Sharks host the Pittsburgh Penguins at the SAP Center at 10:00 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

With just 16 games left, the San Jose Sharks’ situation is desperate. They’re five points behind the Calgary Flames and third place in the Pacific Division and six points shy of the Winnipeg Jets and the second Wild Card spot.

Making up the gap necessary to get into the playoffs will be difficult enough in the time remaining, but they’re also trailing the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings among teams that don’t currently occupy a playoff spot. Given Los Angeles’ history of stepping up in clutch situations and its 10-3-1 record over its last 13 contests, the Kings could certainly end up making San Jose’s monumental task even more difficult.

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If the Sharks are to make the playoffs under these circumstances, they’ll need to crush their competitors over the last five weeks of the season. Even a 11-4-1 or 10-3-3 run to end the season would only bring them up to 95 points, which is the bare minimum they need to have a better than even chance of advancing to the postseason, per Sports Club Stats.

So they really do need a win tonight to kick off this final stretch on the right note, which is unfortunate because Pittsburgh isn’t a team you want to face right now if you’re desperate for two points. The Penguins have been strong all season, but they’ve been particularly good lately with six wins in their last seven contests. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is coming off of the ninth shutout of the campaign while forward Patric Hornqvist could also prove to be a thorn in the Sharks side after scoring seven goals and nine points in his last seven contests. That’s on top of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who have the potential to be the difference in any given game.

The Sharks will counter with Patrick Marleau (four goals and six points in his last seven contests) and Joe Thornton (a goal and five points in his last three games). After the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead to the Kings in the 2014 playoffs, there was rampant speculation about the possibility of one or both of them being dealt as the team looked to focus on their younger players going forward. Now that duo might be the Sharks best chance of staying alive in the playoff race this year.