Joe Thornton

Three things going right for Sharks in otherwise frustrating season

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AP

Three things going right for Sharks in otherwise frustrating season

It's far easier to point out the main things that have gone wrong for the Sharks this season than it is to identify things that have gone right. Alas, that's what happens when you're in the midst of your worst season in more than 15 years.

Through the first 50 games of the season, San Jose has been inconsistent as can be. The Sharks already have four losing streaks of at least four games (and are one loss away from a fifth), but also put together a stretch in which they won 11 of 13. It's that inconsistency that ultimately forced general manager Doug Wilson to make the tough decision to move on from former head coach Peter DeBoer and hand the team to current interim head coach Bob Boughner.

For a team with as much collective experience as San Jose, it sure hasn't translated to the ice often enough.

That said, it hasn't all been bad. Yes, the Sharks are 11 points out of a playoff spot with 32 games remaining and a boatload of teams ahead of them to leapfrog, but their season isn't over. We have seen less likely turnarounds throughout NHL history, and it wasn't until the conclusion of the All-Star break that the eventual 2019 Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues finally found their stride.

If the Sharks are going to do the same, they'll have the few things that have gone right in the pre-All-Star break portion of the schedule to thank.

The penalty kill

Far and away, the most positive development for the Sharks in what has thus far been a very disappointing season is the continued dominance of their penalty kill. San Jose has taken the fourth-most penalties in the league, and if not for the success of the penalty-kill unit, whatever lingering hope the team has of making it back to the postseason would have been snuffed out long ago.

The Sharks have killed off 87.7 percent of the penalties they've taken this season, and that's even with a bit of recent slippage. That easily is the best penalty-kill percentage in the league, and the difference between their rate and second-place Washington (84.2 percent) is larger than the difference between the Capitals and the 15th-ranked Ottawa Senators.

While the forwards and defensemen have done a tremendous job of applying consistent pressure despite being at least one man down, the goaltenders have gotten in on the fun as well. San Jose is the only team in the NHL with a higher save percentage while shorthanded than at even strength, and it isn't even close.

The Sharks are a below-average offensive and goaltending team, and the penalty kill has constantly bailed them out in both categories. It's arguably the only thing San Jose has been able to rely on since the season began.

The kid

Mario Ferraro should not be this good, this quickly. He made the jump straight from juniors to the NHL, and at only 21 years of age, he has seamlessly slid into the Sharks' defensive corps.

He only has one goal on the season, but it's not necessarily his offensive plays that catch your eye. It's his defensive positioning, vision and awareness that seem to be well beyond his years and have allowed him to hit the ground running.

He's averaging over 15 minutes of ice-time while sharing a locker room with players nearly twice his age. It's still quite early in his career, but he sure does look like the second coming of Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

The old guys

Speaking of the age difference in San Jose's locker room, anything the two 40-year-olds have provided has to be considered in the things that have gone right category. I mean, they're 40-freaking-years-old.

Joe Thornton, currently in his 22nd NHL season, has appeared in all 50 games thus far. He ranks third among all Sharks forwards with 17 assists, and has even chipped in a couple of goals as well.

[RELATED: Polled NHL players want to grab beers with Jumbo, Burnzie]

Patrick Marleau rejoined San Jose after the first four games of the season and has appeared in every single one since. Only Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Kevin Labanc and Brent Burns have scored more than the franchise's all-time leader in goals, points and games played. Those are supposed to be the Sharks' best players, and frankly, Marleau has been one of them.

Of course, that also helps explain why the Sharks currently find themselves in the position they do. If you're banking on two 40-year-olds being main contributors, something has gone very wrong. That said, both Marleau and Thornton appear to have plenty left in the tank, and the times in which they've succeeded have provided some of the most enjoyable moments of San Jose's season thus far.

The Sharks might not be happy with the way their season has gone, but Marleau and Thornton have definitely made it more entertaining.

Why polled NHL players want to drink beers with Sharks' Joe Thornton

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USATSI

Why polled NHL players want to drink beers with Sharks' Joe Thornton

If you ever wanted to buy Joe Thornton or Brent Burns a beer, you'd better hope none of their NHL colleagues are around. 

In The Athletic's annual player poll, 12 percent of 392 NHL players who participated said Joe Thornton is the player they'd most want to drink a beer with, just behind Alex Ovechkin (14 percent) and Sidney Crosby (12 percent). Defenseman Brent Burns, with 5 percent of the vote, finished fifth, while fellow Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson also received votes. 

Why Thornton? 

"He's a legend," a Pacific Division player told The Athletic.

Only Sharks teammate Patrick Marleau has played more NHL games (1,703) than Thornton (1,616), and Thornton, Marleau and Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara are the only remaining NHLers who debuted in the 20th century. The Athletic found that the average NHL player entering this season was around 27 years old, meaning the average player was about five years old when Thornton debuted in 1997. 

In this case, a good chunk of the league does want to meet one of their heroes, but Thornton's personality can't hurt, either. After all, he once signed a contract extension on a lawnmower, plays Risk in his downtime and famously posed in the buff alongside Burns for ESPN The Magazine's "Body Issue" in 2017.  

“He’d have good stories and he seems like a fun guy," an Atlantic Division player told The Athletic. 

[RELATED: Is Wilson's GM job in serious jeopardy? Brodie answers in latest Sharks mailbag]

Thornton, 40, has 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 60 games during his 22nd NHL season. 

If he returns for a 23rd, it's easy to imagine him and Burns on this list again next year.

Sharks' Patrick Marleau defies laws of time, has Gordie Howe in sights

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AP

Sharks' Patrick Marleau defies laws of time, has Gordie Howe in sights

SAN JOSE -- Early in the second period Saturday night, Sharks defenseman Brent Burns launched a slapshot from the point, just as the penalized Dallas Stars player was coming out of the box.

The powerful shot couldn't be contained by Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin, and the rebound eventually got poked over to his right side where a Sharks player was waiting to stuff it into the night.

Stuff it, he did, as Patrick Marleau scored one of the easier goals he has ever had in his 22-year NHL career. It wasn't a noteworthy goal, aside from the fact that in came in his 1,700th career game and it proved to be the game-winner.

Okay, so maybe it was pretty noteworthy.

Simply by participating in Saturday's game at SAP Center, Marleau became the fifth player in NHL history to appear in 1,700 career games. Of the five players to accomplish the feat, he is the only one to score within the milestone game.

"That's unbelievable," Burns said of Marleau after San Jose's 2-1 win. "To do what he has done, it's incredible. A lot of hard work, luck ... I can't say enough about that guy. Off the ice, on the ice ... what he does, it's incredible."

From his first shift to his last, Marleau was flying around the ice. He admitted afterward that the occasion might have had something to do with it.

"It's one of those milestone games, so you've got a little extra energy, a little extra jump," he explained. "It's nice getting that one on the board tonight and helping the team offensively."

On a night when former captain Joe Pavelski was in the spotlight, Marleau managed to steal some of it from his long-time friend and ex-teammate. His goal put San Jose in front, and the Sharks seemed to build confidence from that point forward. Yes, his offensive contribution was a big help, but he showed he is still capable of contributing an all-around game.

"That's vintage Marleau tonight," Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner said after the victory. "You see his skating at 40 years old. You can see he has that separation speed. I think that he battled hard on the boards -- he made some great plays on the wall -- scores a goal, so real happy for him. 

"It was a good night. You could tell the building had a lot of energy. It was a great ceremony for [Pavelski], and I thought that Patty got his fair due. So it was a good night all around."

[RELATED: Watch Pavelski get standing ovation before Sharks-Stars]

While Marleau provided the game-winning goal, San Jose netminder Aaron Dell came through with multiple game-saving stops in the final minutes to secure the much-needed win. Even from the opposite side of the ice, he can't help but notice how Marleau continues to defy the laws of time.

"He's still the same player he always was," Dell said. "I don't think he has lost a step at all. It's amazing that he can still play at this age. I remember watching him as a kid and stuff like that, so it's pretty cool to be playing alongside him and [Joe Thornton]. It's quite a feat, really, to be even close to what they are."

Between Marleau and Thornton, they have 44 combined NHL seasons and 3,313 games between them. The 40-year-olds are each one of 14 players in league history to appear in four different decades, and while they no longer are the prolific superstars they were in their primes, you don't have to look further than San Jose's back-to-back wins to observe they still have plenty left in the tank. Just like Marleau's tally against the Stars, Thornton's goal Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets proved to be the game-winner.

"Every day you watch those two guys, you sort of shake your head," Boughner said with a laugh. "It's just how they do it. And it's nice to have them on your side, for sure."

Marleau wasn't on the Sharks' side as recently as the summer, but a combination of circumstances opened the door for his return to the franchise, which has been a feel-good storyline in a season that hasn't had many of them. It is only fitting and proper that he reached the 1,700-game milestone in a San Jose uniform, and he hasn't closed the door and pursuing another one.

After Saturday night, Marleau now trails Gordie Howe by only 67 games for the most all-time in NHL history. He would have to return for a 23rd season in order to eclipse that record, and while Marleau admitted that it's something he has thought about, he isn't looking that far ahead.

"It crosses your mind, but obviously you have to take it one game at a time," Marleau said of chasing Howe. "I hate saying that, but that's the way it is, and that's the way it has always been."

After playing 1,700 games, one could hardly blame Marleau for his one-game-at-a-time approach. But if Saturday night was any indication, he definitely has a shot at standing alone atop that all-time games-played list.