Sharks

Joe Thornton's return should benefit Sharks' promising young forwards

Joe Thornton's return should benefit Sharks' promising young forwards

SAN JOSE -- In addition to hitting multiple career milestones last season, Joe Thornton was instrumental in bringing out the best in some of the younger players around him.

With a stacked crop of fresh faces looking to crack the roster this season, Jumbo Joe -- fresh off signing a one-year deal that will keep him in teal -- will likely lead the way yet again in developing some of San Jose's future stars.

"It's a privilege for all of us to be around him because it's contagious," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said of Thornton on Friday at the team's practice facility. "How he's impacted this franchise on and off the ice, but also his teammates and all the young guys who have the ability to learn and watch (him) and see what it takes to truly be great."

Last season, Thornton found success as San Jose's third-line center with Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc on his wings. The 23-year-old Labanc and 27-year-old Sorensen both registered career-highs in points, many of which were scored while playing alongside No. 19. According to Natural Stat Trick, the trio combined for 23 goals during the 2018-19 season.

Thornton's ability to get so much out of the youngsters around him is "rare," Wilson said, although part of it can be attributed to how close San Jose's AHL team plays to the big club.
 
"It's funny, there were years (Thornton) would go to Barracuda games and he'd say 'those are my guys,'' Wilson mused.  "It's one of the reasons we love to be so loyal to our own players. The proximity of the Barracuda being here, the rink being right across the street, and the fact that our players and our veterans follow them."

Training camp doesn't get underway until next week, but the Sharks are already excited about the contingent of young players looking to make the big roster this year, mainly forwards such as Ivan Chekhovich, Sasha Chmelevski and Lean Bergmann. San Jose noticeably lost some of its offensive firepower over the offseason with Joe Pavelski among the crop of players who departed in free agency. But Wilson went so far as to say the Sharks are "as excited about this group of forwards coming in as we've ever been" heading into camp.

No doubt, having a veteran like Thornton in the dressing room with such a promising young group coming in gives the team a boost.

"The energy -- it's funny to see all the young kids come in and look over and see Joe Thornton in the gym," Wilson said. "(It) just creates a lot of energy and excitement around this group."

Whether any of the young hopefuls coming into camp play on a line with Thornton still remains to be seen. At the very least, San Jose's incoming class will get a little bit of time during camp to learn from the future Hall of Famer. 

[RELATED: Jumbo fully healthy as he prepares for 15th Sharks season]

"I've never met another player who loves the game like him, loves this team, and makes everyone around him better like that," Wilson complimented.

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

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USATSI

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

SAN JOSE -- The SAP Center crowd was on the edge of its seats during overtime play as Brent Burns went to the box for tripping and the Sharks went on the penalty kill. 

But goaltender Martin Jones was there to keep the game moving right along, making stop after stop against the Red Wings and giving San Jose the boost it needed to get to the shootout and tally its sixth straight victory.

On a night when the Sharks weren't at their best, Jones was -- as head coach Peter DeBoer aptly put it -- San Jose's "best player." And this certainly wasn't the first time this month that he came up with some big saves at a very big moment.

Without Jones playing at the level he has been over the last few contests, the Sharks might not finally be climbing out of their early-season hole.

"When he can steal games like that, it's huge for us," Kevin Labanc said. "He had an unbelievable game today and that's why he's the goalie that he is. We have a lot of faith in him and he's winning us games right now."

Jones' work on the penalty kill was just one highlight of his performance from Saturday night. He was steady as Detroit's offense picked up steam and used its speed to wedge into San Jose's zone. Jones was quick to save some of the Red Wings' best shots, most notably a Brandon Perlini attempt that he batted out of the crease with his outstretched right leg. He then topped it off by completely stymying Detroit's top scorers in the shootout.

"A big reason we got the two points was him tonight," captain Logan Couture said of Jones. "He made massive saves. You think of that penalty kill, that save in the second there which was huge, big saves in the third that he made. He's playing great. And then the shootout -- he's been unbelievable in the shootout so far."

Considering the rough start Jones had this season, one wonders if he has been doing something different recently in his preparation for games. But when asked postgame why he's been more successful lately, the netminder -- who is typically a pretty cool customer -- couldn't pinpoint where his current confidence is coming from.

"I have to play the game," Jones said. "I can't rely on making a big save early, sometimes that's just the way the game unfolds. I get confidence from practicing hard and making sure I'm focused on the details."

Granted, Jones' numbers on the season as a whole still aren't great. He's 8-7-1 through 16 starts and currently possesses an .889 save percentage. Even over the course fo San Jose's current six-game winning streak, he's sitting on an .891 save percentage. While the team in front of Jones obviously is scoring enough goals to win games and piggyback on his big saves, it still needs to give him a little more help.

"I still think we can be tighter and better defensively," Couture critiqued. "Too many grade-As in our slot and breakaways. So we'll tighten up on that."

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks beat Red Wings in shootout]

But the Sharks aren't going to scoff at another win, especially if it comes at the hands of a big performance from their goalie.

"When you're putting together a winning streak, you're going to have to win all kinds of different ways," DeBoer said. "You're going to put some really solid games together, and then you're going to win some like this where you've got a couple of guys with big performances."

In this case, Jones' performance is what kept the winning streak alive.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-3 shootout win over Red Wings

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-3 shootout win over Red Wings

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Another night, another Sharks’ win.

San Jose certainly didn’t make things easy on itself against the Red Wings at SAP Center on Saturday night, and although the Sharks jumped out to an early lead, Detroit bounced back from two deficits and forced the contest into overtime. Kevin Labanc, though, played the hero with the lone marker in the shootout to clinch a 4-3 victory and extend Team Teal's winning streak to six games.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's exciting win:

Jones comes up big

Martin Jones deserves credit for his solid play throughout the month of November, and San Jose's goaltender had another good start against Detroit. The Red Wings picked up speed over the course of the game and outshot the Sharks, but Jones was a steady presence throughout. Taro Hirose's second-period goal that tied the game 2-2 wasn't his fault and, frankly, he didn’t get much help from the defense when Andreas Athanasiou tied it up 3-3 late in the third period either.

One of Jones' best saves of the night actually came just before that Hirose goal when he made a huge kick save on Brandon Perlini that narrowly missed dribbling into the net. Although, to be fair, his blocker saves when San Jose went on the penalty kill in overtime were equally impressive.

If Jones continues making big saves like that on a nightly basis, the Sharks' fortunes will continue to turn for the better. 

Still in search of that four-line game 

The Sharks have been an improved even-strength team since the start of the month, but against the Red Wings, the forward attack didn't look as deep as it has on other nights. Labanc and Logan Couture did their fair share of the heavy lifting on the top line, as evidenced by Labanc's first-period goal and Couture's three assists on the evening. 

But other than that, San Jose's lines didn't generate much against a Red Wings team that doesn't have much forward depth itself. With two big divisional games coming up next week against the Oilers and the Golden Knights, the Sharks need more players to start producing on a regular basis. There's no way around it.

[RELATED: Thornton discusses importance of fitness in HEADSTRONG]

On a positive note ...

Keep the big hits coming 

One of San Jose's top concerns heading into Saturday's game was being able to contain Detroit's speed. When the Wings did manage to break into the Sharks' defensive zone, San Jose did a good job of imposing its physicality and breaking up plays. Through the first two periods, the Sharks out-hit the Red Wings 10-5.

While San Jose still needs to work on taking more of the center of the ice away from the opposition, that's the kind of heavy game the Sharks must play regardless of how fast or physical the opponent is. If they can build off that performance, the wins will keep on coming.