NEWARK, N.J. -- It was March 1, 1998 and Joe Thornton was a teenager trying to make his name with the Boston Bruins after being the No. 1 draft pick nine months earlier. Dave Ellett, then a month away from his 34th birthday, was lining up next to the 18-year-old Thornton at Nassau Coliseum.
Scoring woes don't bother Thornton
NEWARK, N.J. -- Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have combined for just 3 assists through four games this season. The stat itself is bothersome, but both Thornton and Sharks coach Todd McLellan say the lack of production is not a result of lack of opportunity.
Marleau has 14 shots on goal and Thornton has hit the net 12 times.
The Sharks are just 1-3-0 this season largely because their offense has struggled with only 10 goals, despite averaging over 40 shots per game.
"To be honest we just haven't buried the puck," Thornton said. "I think we've played really, really well. We could probably be 4-0 and probably put in five or six a night, but we haven't finished."
Thornton couldn't give a reason as to why that's the case other than to say, "During an 82-game schedule you go through little spells when things just don't go in, but hopefully it's done and we can start scoring some goals."
McLellan isn't worried about his two best playmakers yet.
"The opportunities have been there, but they have to put the puck in the net at some point," McLellan said. "We could end up with a catch-22 where we are creating a number of scoring chances and it's not going in, so now we're going to try to cheat and all of a sudden they start scoring on us. We can't have that happen.
"I know we'll have enough firepower to score with the rest of the teams in the League, so we have to make sure we're defending properly."
Ellett was getting ready to play in his 1,000th career NHL game. Thornton was getting ready to play in his 42nd career NHL game.
"They gave him the (next) day off," Thornton recalled Thursday. "I thought, 'Wow, I would love to have a day off, so I hope I get to 1,000 games.'
"Here I am, and it's weird."
Thornton will play in his 1,000th career NHL game Friday at Prudential Center when the Sharks start a six-game road trip against the New Jersey Devils. San Jose plays in Boston on Saturday, so if coach Todd McLellan is planning to give his captain a day off just like Pat Burns gave Ellett 13 and a half years ago, it'll have to wait until at least Sunday or Monday.
"If you asked me in my first year would I ever get to my 1,000th game -- I thought just getting to 100 would be amazing," said Thornton, who has 1,002 points in 999 games and was the Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner in 2006. "Sure, you look back and say how fast it goes. I remember the older guys saying cherish every day because it just goes by so fast, and really it has. It flies right by, and I've been lucky."
Thornton turned 32 over the summer, and he understands his place as one of the older guys on the Sharks' roster. Heck, only Dan Boyle, Michal Handzus and Colin White were born before Thornton.
That said, there isn't a bone in Thornton's body that feels old.
"You know he's one of the biggest kids on this team," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski told NHL.com.
There's no doubt about that. Thornton still exudes youthful energy, matching it with his veteran savvy.
When Thornton came off the ice Thursday, he bounded into the dressing room and started cracking jokes about when the bus was going to be leaving. He chirped White for feeling old because his three kids were in the Sharks' dressing room, and joked with Brent Burns about his impending milestone.
"I still have young legs and a young mind," Thornton said, sporting his infectious smile that he had on the moment he got into the dressing room. "Really, I don't know how (1,000 games) got here so quickly. I woke up one day and here it is. I still feel young, though."
And because of that, Thornton is a joy to be around.
"It's a quality that I think is an excellent one for Jumbo to have," McLellan said of Thornton's youthful exuberance. "The outside world -- the fans, the reporters -- they use that against Jumbo a lot of times, but I think that's what drives him. It's his passion and excitement for being at the rink.
"I really believe you're either giving energy off or you're sucking it out of people, and he's giving it off all the time."
Ironically, Thornton also now finds himself as the guy giving advice to the younger players about cherishing every day in the NHL like it was their last.
He recalls guys like Ellett and Ken Baumgartner giving him the same message long ago.
"Oh yeah, it's amazing how it goes full circle," Thornton said. "Look at a guy like Logan (Couture), 21 years old, and you're just like, 'Hey, enjoy it because it goes by very, very fast.' "
Couture, who is actually 22 now, appreciates being one of the recipients of Thornton's advice.
"I hear it from guys like Joe and Rob Blake when he was here," Couture told NHL.com. "They always say, 'You're in your first year, but you blink and you're in your 10th year.' I've played in 100 or so games, and I can't imagine getting to 1,000, but they say the time just flies by. You definitely have to cherish the time you have to play in this League."
Thornton may have had some ups and downs in his career, and he's most definitely been a target for criticism, but no one has ever accused him of not appreciating his life and career in the NHL.
"It's an honor playing in this League and I have always felt that," he said. "Now let's get through 1,000 and see how 1,001 goes."