While the differences between this year’s playoff run and previous campaigns with San Jose have been exaggerated, Joe Thornton really has been playing tremendous hockey for the Sharks in the 2011 playoffs. He is currently tied for second place in postseason points scoring with 17, already the best playoff output of his impressive NHL career.
Yet one of the underrated elements to his breakthrough is the free feeling that comes with knowing that other players will contribute. While Thornton had some solid linemates (even if some of them flamed out, like Jonathan Cheechoo) over the years, most of the Sharks teams didn’t have much scoring depth beyond his top line.
San Jose is now very strong down the middle thanks to a full season at the NHL level for talented rookie pivot Logan Couture and another solid campaign by Joe Pavelski. Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi, Ryane Clowe and Dany Heatley give the team an imposing set of scoring wingers as well. (At least when all of these players are achieving at their expected levels.)
Just like we discussed yesterday, Thornton will indeed play in Game 5 tonight, according to Tim Panaccio. Ray Ratto asks an important question, though: will his teammates show up, too? (In the figurative sense, mind you, since Pavelski and Heatley rank among the struggling Sharks.)
The unsaid truth here is that San Jose’s future Tuesday is going to hinge not on the breadth of Thornton’s back, but on the support staff that hasn’t been very supportive in this series.
And getting that level of more across what has been a fairly thin board?
“We often say that as a coaching staff about individual players: ‘What more can we do with them?’” he said. “That’s a copout as a coaching staff. We have to find ways to make them better, help them. There’s a real good lesson I learned in Minnesota’s organization. Doug Risebrough (the former general manager there) said, You always have to try to find a way.”
The Sharks watched the Detroit Red Wings march back from a 3-0 series deficit to nearly beat them in the second round. Perhaps they’ll take lessons from the way the Red Wings conducted themselves in that series, especially since Detroit’s own elite center Pavel Datsyuk was far from 100 percent himself.
Thornton is showing the guts to fight through a shoulder injury that might lessen his ability to take good shots and win faceoffs. Will his teammates have the guts to pick up the slack and keep their season alive?