SAN JOSE – Joe Thornton was credited with a career-high six hits on Thursday against Los Angeles, but indirectly, he may have been responsible for many more.
And, there were more. Lots more. Fifty-two, to be exact, a new franchise record.
Although that number doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, (and can vary wildly depending on which building’s officials are tasked with keeping track), it was still indicative of the type of game San Jose played in a 2-1 win over its biggest rival.
A heavy game. A physical game. A man’s game. And, an important win, that not only keeps the Sharks within reach of the Pacific Division title, but sends a message that they are prepared to sacrifice their bodies and fight tooth-and-nail against Los Angeles, should these teams see each other in the coming weeks.
Thornton’s ornery demeanor manifested itself in the second period, when he jabbed Kings defenseman Slava Voynov in the midsection. Voynov responded, resulting in coincidental minors shortly after the Sharks had taken their first lead. Had a linesman not gotten over in time, it looked like the two were about to start throwing haymakers.
Then, on a late shift in the second, he nailed Robyn Regehr and shouldered Jeff Carter, proving that the incident with Voynov wasn’t an isolated one.
“I wanted to hit something tonight, that’s all. That was the game plan,” Thornton said, smiling.
Logan Couture, who scored the game-winner on a wraparound, said: "I think it rubs off on a lot of guys. You see Jumbo doing it, [James Sheppard, Tommy Wingels], our D-men, [Brad Stuart]. We're a big, strong team. We haven't played that physical for a long time. It was good to see. When our leader does it, guys follow."
Thornton also helped generate the tying goal, after the Sharks trailed 1-0 after the first period. He won an offensive zone draw with Dustin Brown in the box on a roughing minor, and Brent Burns’ blast nicked off of Joe Pavelski in front of the net at 7:15. Couture's marker came nearly five minutes later, and that was all the offense the game would produce.
Head coach Todd McLellan was pleased with his team’s performance, after a fairly inconsistent run in the last two weeks.
“The opponent, the environment, what’s on the line – it brought the best out of us,” McLellan said.
Regarding Thornton’s effort, McLellan said: “Leaders have to lead in those situations. … L.A.’s bigger players always play hard, and ours showed up and did it too. When your leaders play that way, everybody has to follow. They really have no choice. It was a job well done by our group.”
Special teams played a big role. Pavelski’s power play goal came on just one of two Sharks advantages, while San Jose denied Los Angeles on all five of its attempts over nine minutes and five seconds.
“I was happy with the penalty kill, but not happy with the fact that we had to kill basically a sixth of the game. That hurt us a little bit,” McLellan said. “Anytime we could get any momentum going, we seemed to go back on the penalty kill. That’s one area we need to clean up.”
The Sharks also survived a first period in which they seemed to spend the final half of it in their own zone. Los Angeles applied late third period pressure, too, but by the end of the night San Jose had 27 blocked shots and Antti Niemi had allowed only one goal to Jordan Nolan on a double-deflection.
“I thought we did a good job of being in the shooting lanes, blocking their shot attempts,” McLellan said. “They throw a lot of pucks at the net.”
Still, the overall physicality of the game was what stood out. The Kings ended up with 32 hits themselves, and the fifth and final meeting of the regular season looked more like a playoff game. In two weeks, it just may be.
“We’re starting to ramp up our game a little bit,” Thornton said. “That was just the case tonight. We might see these guys in 12 days or so, so just play hard, and see what happens.”