Sharks

Sharks' Thornton can follow Marleau, make history in Vancouver

Sharks' Thornton can follow Marleau, make history in Vancouver

SAN JOSE – Three weeks ago, Sharks forward Patrick Marleau made history in Vancouver when he scored his 500th career goal at Rogers Arena on Feb. 2.

His longtime teammate has a chance to make more history on the same ice surface on Saturday. Joe Thornton sits two assists away from becoming just the 13th player in NHL history to reach 1,000 for his career, as the Sharks prepare to resume their post-bye week schedule against the Canucks.

“It’s neat,” Thornton said recently. “It’s something I don’t think growing up or even playing so many years you realize you’re going to hit this milestone. When you see the names – I haven’t really looked at the names yet. I think once it hits I’ll kind of peek and see who’s on that list. It’s a nice accomplishment, I guess.”

Thornton, of course, has helped make goal scorers out of many different teammates throughout his career in Boston and San Jose. Marleau has scored 120 goals in which Thornton registered an assist to top the list, while Joe Pavelski is close behind (111). Jonathan Cheechoo (89 goals assisted by Thornton), Boston’s Glen Murray (70) and Brent Burns (50) have also benefited from being on the ice at the same time as the best player in Sharks franchise history.

“I’ve been lucky to play with so many goal scorers,” Thornton said. “For a guy that passes the puck a lot, you need guys to finish. I’ve been lucky enough ever since I’ve been here in San Jose, and really my whole career. … I’ve had so many good goal scorers that it helps you get to that point.”

Logan Couture gave Thornton more credit than he was willing to give himself. 

“You look over the years – Cheechoo, [Devin Setoguchi], now Pav. He finds guys in the slot," Couture said. "Obviously he’s made some tremendous passes over the years, and guys have put it in the back of the net. … The way he’s able to kind of take a quick peek out of the corner of his eye and find someone and deliver it through feet and sticks and all that stuff, it’s pretty special.”

Thornton is currently 23rd all-time in scoring in NHL history with 1,380 points. He would be just the second player in to debut during the 1990s to reach 1,000 career assists, joining Florida’s Jaromir Jagr. He could eclipse Joe Sakic (1,016 assists) for 12th place on the all-time assist list before the season is through, and is 43 helpers away from breaking into the top 10 (Marcel Dionne, 1,040).

In 60 games this season, Thornton has five goals and 34 assists for 39 points. He has recorded multiple assists in a game six times this season, with the most recent occurrence on Jan. 18 in Los Angeles.

Although he’s off his scoring pace from last season, when he had 82 points in 82 games and finished fifth in voting for the Hart Trophy, Thornton has admitted that this season has been a grind for him. The 37-year-old is coming off of a short summer, helping the Sharks reach their first-ever Stanley Cup Final, and helped Canada win the World Cup of Hockey in September, too.

He’ll be a player to watch coming out of the bye week, which he was looking forward to.

“For me, it’s nice. It’s going to be a nice little break before our last [22] games and our postseason,” he said last week." I think it kind of fits in perfect for us. Get our rest, and get ready for the sprint.”

In 56 career regular season games against the Canucks, Thornton has 16 goals and 48 assists for 64 points.

Why Sharks’ goaltending struggles don't bode well for NHL playoffs run

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USATSI/AP

Why Sharks’ goaltending struggles don't bode well for NHL playoffs run

The Sharks have had a hard time keeping the puck out of their own net lately. 

San Jose has lost three straight games, and allowed at least four goals in each of the last four. During that span, starting goaltender Martin Jones and backup Aaron Dell have combined for an .847 save percentage in all situations, and an .865 at full strength (per Natural Stat Trick). 

That represents a continuation of the team's season-long goaltending woes. The Sharks entered Wednesday 31st in save percentage (.891), and dead-last in 5-on-5 save percentage (.900).

As NBC Sports' Adam Gretz observed on Tuesday, that perfomance is not befitting of a Stanley Cup contender. It also puts San Jose in some not-so-elite company historically. 

Gretz found that only 16 teams have made the playoffs with bottom-five goaltending over the last quarter-century. Only two (2008-09 Detroit Red Wings, 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers) made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and every other team failed to advance past the second round. 

This context should concern the Sharks, especially in light of Dell's and Jones' solid play in net prior to the last week.  

From the end of the Sharks' bye week until March 11, Jones (.919 5-on-5 save percentage) and Dell (.929) were far better than before the NHL All-Star break. Jones got the bulk of the work in the crease, and his 5-on-5 save percentage matched that of his first three seasons in teal. 

But since the Sharks' 5-4 road win over the Winnipeg Jets on March 12, Jones (.837) and Dell (.900) have struggled. Neither received much help defensively in San Jose's loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday, but the Sharks haven't been that much worse in their own end in front of the two goalies -- at least at full strength.

In the last four games, the Sharks have allowed 5-on-5 scoring chances (22.14 SCA/60) and dangerous chances (7.7 HDCA/60) at lower rates than they have on the season, according to Natural Stat Trick. Per their data, Jones has actually faced 5-on-5 shots at a further distance (42.88 feet) in the last four games than the season as a whole (36.11 feet). 

It's possible that Jones and Dell are just experiencing an ill-timed blip on their season-long radar, which is a definite possibility considering how small of a sample size we're dealing with. That's also why their penalty-kill save percentages over that span, in fewer than 11 minutes of shorthanded action apiece, aren't all that meaningful in terms of predictive power. 

[RELATED: Sharks clinch NHL playoff spot, now chase Pacific title]

You could probably say the same about each goaltender's improvement after the All-Star break, too. The full-season sample is far more meaningful as the postseason nears, and as Gretz noted, it's far from encouraging. 

Jones has turned it on each of the last three postseasons for San Jose. He posted a higher save percentage in the playoffs than the regular season every time, including during the Sharks' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. 

If San Jose is going to get back there this spring, he'll have to heat up in a hurry. 

Sharks clinch spot in NHL playoffs, thanks to Avalanche win over Wild

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USATSI

Sharks clinch spot in NHL playoffs, thanks to Avalanche win over Wild

For the fourth consecutive season, Peter DeBoer has guided the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Thanks to the Colorado Avalanche's 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, the Sharks became the second team in the Western Conference to secure a playoff spot. The Calgary Flames (45-21-7), whom the Sharks (43-22-8) trail by three points for first place in the Pacific Division, were the first. 

The Sharks lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round last year. If the playoffs started today, second-seeded San Jose would match up with third-seeded Vegas in the first round.

[RELATED: 'Concerned' Sharks can't look too far in future after loss to Vegas]

DeBoer took over as Sharks coach in 2015 after the franchise ended a 10-year run of making the playoffs. The Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season, but they haven't advanced past the second round since.

The franchise also seeks its first Pacific Division crown since the 2010-11 season. A division banner would be the first of DeBoer's career as an NHL head coach.