They’ve played a big role in San Jose’s improved power play, which currently is ranked sixth in the National Hockey League. However, the line has excelled when the team plays 5-on-5.
Setoguchi leads the group with 23 points in 27 games (11 goals and 12 assists). Marleau is second with 22 (eight goals and 14 assists) and Thornton is third with 21 (four goals and 17 assists). Among the NHL even strength scoring leaders, Setoguchi ranks third, Marleau is fifth and Thornton is eighth.
A team’s scoring prowess at even strength is a big indicator of future playoff success. In the postseason, teams that live on the power play won’t get as many chances as teams try to play more disciplined hockey in the postseason.
“Sometimes teams can get caught waiting for a power play opportunity and it never comes,” Marleau said. “You have to want to score every time out there. You can’t wait.”
The numbers say a team’s chances are better with the man advantage, but the most of the game is played with five skaters on each side.
“There are only two to three power play chances each game and you get 10 to 15 shifts at even strength,” Marleau said.
While up a man, the focus is getting the extra man open with the puck and cleaning up rebounds. When things are even, the Sharks get creative trying to find odd-man situations. Speed and finding open ice are very important.
“It’s quick little plays in the zone to make it a 3-on-2,” Marleau said. “(It’s) beating a guy to a certain area or beating a guy back to the net.”
“We work well as a unit and work hard to get into scoring position,” Thornton said.
When the spacing can’t be created by their speed, San Jose’s top line plays physical in the slot to get scoring chances.
“There are more battles,” Marleau said. “It’s probably where we’ve earned a lot of our goals. Joe and ‘Seto’ win a lot of 1-on-1 battles for loose pucks.”
“We’re three big men,” said Thornton, who’s the biggest physically at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds. In fact, Setoguchi is the “smallest” at 6-foot and 200 pounds “We’re not easily moved if the puck is right there.”
With the line centered by Thornton dominating play at even strength, it allows Coach Todd McLellan to play his best line against the opponent’s top forwards.
“They play against the other team’s top unit and when they’re effective, the play is in the other zone and it keeps the other team from attacking,” McLellan said. “With the defensemen jumping in, it’s a five-man attack.”
McLellan says his top trio enjoys playing against the opponent’s best.
“They see it as a challenge playing against top players,” McLellan said. “When Joe is lined up with (Columbus center) Rick Nash, he wants to be the best out there.”
The ability to not worry about who’s matched with the Sharks top scoring unit allows for another indirect benefit.
“I want our guys in a rhythm,” McLellan said.
The benefits served the entire club, but the best benefit to scoring five-on-five may not be seen until June.
JOE AT RISK!
NBC-11 recently ran a feature on Joe Thornton
and his love of the online version of the classic board game Risk! The link is below.
Players in the Sharks locker room were excited to break the news that Joe Thornton
is now engaged to be married.
“Put it this way, our locker room has been a little noisier today than in the past,” McLellan said.
MITCHELL HAS CHRISTMAS WISHES
Center Torrey Mitchell
skated on his own before practice and was actually out with his teammates for a bit on Wednesday, although not in full gear.
“My goal is to be skating (in full practices) by Christmas, but I don’t know if that’s in the cards,” Mitchell said.
Once Mitchell skates in a complete practice, he would just need to get into game shape.
“I’m at the point when I do get cleared, I can go hard,” Mitchell said.
The recent ping-pong story originating from Sharks Ice raised discussions about who was the true No. 1 and on Wednesday, the two players ranked at the top settled the debate. It was a best-of-five matchup between defenseman Dan Boyle
and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.
Things were tied at two games apiece after Boyle looked strong in a 21-4 Game 4 victory that forced the rubber match.
“We all know what happened,” the victorious Nabokov said after Game 5. “It was 21-7.”
To Boyle’s credit, he gave Nabokov his props earlier in the week.
As for center Jeremy Roenick leaving Nabokov off his Top 5, that was handled with victories in five consecutive games, one for each spot in the top five Roenick didn’t include the current champion.
Setoguchi took the day off from practice and right wing Jonathan Cheechoo (upper body) took his spot for the day as left wing Ryane Clowe
“It was a maintenance day for him,” said McLellan of Setoguchi. “Clowe was back out there and he should be good to go.”
Defenseman Brad Lukowich (lower body) also skated and his availability for Thursday’s game vs. Anaheim is unknown.
“With Lukowich, we’ll likely make a decision tomorrow morning,” McLellan said.
As for Cheechoo, he’s not completely cleared.
“Right now, I’d say he’s not playing,” McLellan said. “We’ll see how he is in the morning.”
San Jose will play hosts to Anaheim on Thursday after being off for the last four days. The contest will be on CSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com and tickets can be found at www.ticketmaster.com and at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office.