is known as the National Hockey League’s deadliest setup man, but when overtime rolls around and the game is on the line, he becomes one of the NHL’s most lethal snipers. His most recent overtime game-winner came three games ago against Chicago when he created the opportunity by winning a one-on-one battle and then drove the net to tip-in a Ryane Clowe
pass in the slot.
That tally put Thornton in a fourth place tie in goals among NHLers since Dec. 1, 2005. In fact, since that date, Thornton is tied for first among League leaders in overtime points.
No one should be surprised that Thornton’s strong scoring skills in regulation carries over to the extra five minutes, but that he ranks up there in goals might catch some off guard.
“He’s got a good shot. We always tell him to shoot and if he uses it a bit more, he’ll score a bit more,” Clowe said. “He’s got a really good shot, it’s a heavy shot. He uses a big heavy blade and when he gets his shot on net, even if it’s just a wrist shot, goalies have trouble handling it because it is tough to pick up.”
Head Coach Todd McLellan knows fully well that Thornton is a clutch player.
“I know he wants to be on the ice,” McLellan said. “There are players that really crave that situation. They want to be in that situation to score the winning goal or at least get the opportunity. It’s like going up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. There are some guys that really want to be there and there are other guys that have to go up because they’re in the batting order. Joe wants to be up to bat and maybe he does take it up a notch.”
Thornton’s 6-foot-4 frame and the extra space on the ice are definitely part of the overtime equation.
“There’s a little more space on the ice playing four-on-four,” McLellan said. “Joe has tremendous instincts and the ability to hold onto the puck. He’s so big and strong that it’s hard for the opposition to strip it from him. I don’t know that his game changes a lot, but (overtime) is played a little different and maybe he benefits from that.”
The talent, plus the desire, simply make for a big clutch player.
“Some players just have that knack in overtime,” Clowe said. “He probably plays two-and-a-half, three minutes out of five minutes, so he’s an opportunist. He scored the other night and he’s also set up Dan Boyle
for a nice one. He’s good in overtime. It’s tough to have an explanation for that.”
“I just think he’s one of the top players in the League and when push comes to shove, he rises to the occasion and he’s been doing that since he got here,” Marleau said of his linemate. “He’s an elite player and when the game’s on the line, that’s the player you want out on the ice. I think it’s probably just the intensity and the adrenaline getting into him. He wants to win that bad and takes it upon himself to get it done and shoot the puck.”
Besides wanting to make the plays, Marleau said Thornton’s leadership skills shine more in a clutch situation.
“He’s just trying to win the game and take it upon himself to put everybody on his shoulders,” Marleau said. “He probably just gets up for that and wants to win and help the team win.”
On Tuesday night against Toronto, Thornton will mark his third anniversary in teal and with his talents, many more records, in overtime or regulation, will be reached.
On the Sharks all-time overtime scoring list, Thornton and Marleau are tied for second with four winners and they trail only Marco Sturm who has five. On the assist list, Thornton’s six trails only Marleau’s seven and in all-time Sharks overtime points, Thornton only trails Marleau’s 11 points.
Right wing Riley Armstrong played in his first NHL game on Saturday in Phoenix and it was a memorable affair.
“It was excitement and nerves at the same time, I didn’t really know what to think,” Armstrong said. “It was fun to finally get up here and play in a game.”
Armstrong has an older brother, Colby, who plays for Atlanta. But on Saturday night, the attention was on the younger Armstrong sibling.
“My mom and dad came down from Saskatoon (Saskatchewan) and my brother’s fiancée came from Atlanta, so it was good to have some family there to watch my first game,” Armstrong said. “It was fun. I usually just watch them (the Sharks) on TV. I haven’t been to a lot of live NHL games so to actually be there and play, it was quite a feeling.”
For his next contest, Armstrong will be playing against a childhood friend from Saskatoon.
“I’m playing against my next-door neighbor, from Saskatoon, Luke Schenn,” Armstrong said of the Toronto rookie defenseman. “Our backyards were conjoined when we were growing up. He actually just played against Colby the other night when Atlanta went to Toronto. There were a bunch of us that always played out in the back, so he was one of the guys. I actually was just texting him last night. We still hang out and talk a bit.”
Right wing Jonathan Cheechoo will probably stay away from practice for a couple more days and won’t play against Toronto on Tuesday night.
The Sharks will play hosts to Toronto Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at HP Pavilion and tickets can be found at www.ticketmaster.com and at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office. The contest will be aired on CSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.