Last season was the first time since his rookie year that Joe Thornton scored less than ten goals in an 82-game season.
It was no coincidence that his 1.03 shots per game were his lowest since his first campaign, according to Hockey Reference, and that his 2.95 shots on goal per 60 minutes in five-on-five situations were his lowest since the NHL first began tracking shot attempts in 2007-08, according to Corsica Hockey.
This season, Thornton’s just three goals away from matching his total from a season ago after scoring his fourth in Tuesday night’s win over the Philadelphia Flyers. He’s now scored two goals in his last four games, after scoring the same amount in his previous 19.
That mark ties him with linemate Joe Pavelski, and fellow member of the over-35 club Joel Ward, for fifth on the team. How’s Thornton managed to do it?
Simply put, he’s shooting the puck more.
Much to the delight of Sharks fans that have cried out for him to shoot whenever he has the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, he’s shooting a hair over two more shots every 60 minutes of five-on-five play (5.05 iSF/60, per Corsica) than he did last year. Across all situations, he’s shooting nearly half-a-shot more per game than last year (1.49, per Hockey Reference).
The former matches his rate from 2014-15, and is the fourth-highest Thornton’s posted since 2007-08. The latter is more than Thornton’s managed in all but one of the last five seasons (2014-15; 1.68).
Thornton’s always had a good shot. Of the players that have played 200 games since Thornton entered the league, his shooting percentage (13.9 percent) is tied for 81st, ahead of players far more known for goal-scoring such as Patrick Marleau (13.4), Corey Perry (13.1), and even Pavelski (12.0).
Those differences are miniscule, but still speak well of Thornton’s shooting ability. He’s actually shooting below his career average this season (11.4 percent), and a bit more regression to the mean would ensure Thornton surpasses the 15-goal mark, as he’s done in all but three full NHL seasons.
The Sharks have continued to put the 38-year-old in positions to succeed coming off of significant knee injuries last spring, but his age and those injuries make his shooting turnaround all the more impressive.