Thornton, Pavelski thriving since All-Star break

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Thornton, Pavelski thriving since All-Star break

TAMPA Youd be hard pressed to find hotter linemates since the All-Star break than Sharks forwards Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.

In the seven games since the NHL shut down for its midseason celebration, the two Joes have combined for 22 points (9g, 13a) while playing together in both even-strength and power play situations. Thornton has four goals and eight assists for 12 points, while Pavelski has five goals and five assists for 10 points.

After All-Star break we just kind of picked up our play a little bit. For whatever reason we just needed some rest, or whatever, Thornton said. I like playing with Joe. He sees the ice well and has a knack for being around the net and putting in timely goals. We enjoy playing with each other.

Pavelski agreed, admitting that the complete week between the Sharks last game before the break and first one after was beneficial.

I think that was really important. The legs were getting a little heavy there, he said. You just freshen up, and get that jump back in your step you had there at the beginning of the season.

There are a couple more distinct factors at play when it comes to the uptick in production from Pavelski and Thornton. The most obvious is the power play. Dating back to the Sharks game in Vancouver on Jan. 21, when Pavelski was moved back to the point, San Jose is 13-for-32 with a man advantage (40.6 percent).

In fact, three of Pavelskis five goals have come on the power play, and Thornton had an assist on all of them.

That ended a brutal two-month stretch for San Jose, which had just 26 power play goals in the first 44 games before the recent surge. After a 3-for-6 performance on Monday night in Washington, the Sharks find themselves fourth in the league on the power play (21.0 percent).

To climb from where we were, and we reminded them of this after the St. Louis game, to where we are now, is a credit to them. It became real important to them and real important to our team that we fix that area, said Todd McLellan, referring to an 0-for-4 performance against the Blues on Sunday night.

When youre playing well in that area, it should translate over to feeling good about your game and having some confidence elsewhere.

By elsewhere, McLellan meant five-on-five play, and Pavelski agreed that power play success has helped his even-strength play.

When you get to play a little bit on the power play you get the puck a little more, it just might change your feel, like the puck is coming to you tonight and youre around the net a little bit more. That feeling of confidence can definitely cross over.

The power play has had its up and downs this year but recently, its been really, really good. Were really confident with it, Thornton said.

There's more. Thornton has made a decision, likely influenced by the coaching staff, to shoot the puck.

In the first four games after the break, Thornton had 18 shots on goal. To put that number in context, he had a total of three shots in five games immediately preceding the break.

I think theyre doing some things offensively that maybe they didnt do as much of earlier. A lot is the power play polishing itself up a little bit which is nice to see, but the other is Jumbo is shooting the puck a lot more, McLellan said.

We have better net presence, were in and around the blue paint a little bit more, and theyre getting rewarded with offense because of it. You look at some of the goals weve scored, they have been second and third pokes in and around the blue paint. Even the best players in the world have to be reminded to go there sometimes.

By breaking from his typical pass-first mentality, Thornton may be able to take advantage of opponents who are used to seeing him scan the ice for an open winger or defenseman by firing it on goal and letting players like Pavelski sift through the traffic in front of the net.

I think Jumbo has made a real effort to get more pucks on the net, and the rest benefit off of it, McLellan said. Its unpredictable, and not everybodys playing the pass. It does change the dynamic of an offensive play.

GMs have taken all the fun out of Trade Deadline day

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USATSI

GMs have taken all the fun out of Trade Deadline day

The NHL trade deadline came and went Monday night when the Washington Capitals went chips-in on St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

(For the record, the actual details of the trade are so absurdly complicated that all you will be permitted to know here is that the Caps got Shattenkirk).

But the fact is that, yet again, all the air rushed out of Wednesday’s trade deadline balloon for the hockey media, and the poor sods on set to babysit all the deal-lets and non-deals will weep bitterly as their phones spit out hour after hour of non-information.

At least that’s the way it is playing now. Maybe Pittsburgh will finally close that long-rumored (well, by me, anyway) Sidney Crosby-for-Phil Di Giuseppe deal, but that’s not the way to bet.

But the trade deadline has been slowly but surely dying as general managers find far greater advantage in making their deals away from the time crunch and the persistent phone calls from other general manager, agents and worst of all, media weasels.

For example, the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans broke the NBA trade deadline as well as the All-Star Game by doing the DeMarcus Cousins deal four days early and midway through the first half, in that order.

And though this wasn’t actually a trade, the Golden State Warriors broke the market back in July by maneuvering their way for the prize of the summer – Zaza Pachulia.

Oh, and the other guy.

In short, the general managers seem to have figured out the simplest way to foil the pressures of the trade deadline – by ignoring the deadline and acting ahead of time, creating their own spoiler alerts by spoiling everyone’s fun before they were fully alerted.

And that leaves the rest of us faced with an empty day of blather after we’ve all gone to the trouble of doubling down on beer and chips.

Ultimately the idea behind the coverage of a trade is to break the news of the trade whenever it happens. And the idea of the trade from the general manager’s view is to better the team and minimize the chance of being fired.

All laudable goals, by and large.

But a trade deadline without some recognizable trades is just another day when you can’t fake working, and who needs that?

What’s needed here then is a trade deadline with teeth and real tangible punishments for everyone involved. I mean, we have chips and guacamole to think of.

For instance, there is no reason why the leagues couldn’t install rules that say that no trade can be announced even to any of the principals (players, agents, medioids, et. al.) except on the day of the deadline. Any teams involved in a deal that breaks the embargo is fined a massive amount of the owners’ (as in both teams’ owners) money.

To make this work, the teams would have to agree no trade could be made between, say, Thanksgiving and the deadline. Or Christmas, depending on how you feel about tryptophan overdosing. But the point is, nothing could get done until the agreed-upon deadline, and it could only be announced to anyone on the day of the deadline.

This is profoundly unfair to the players, of course, but that little issue has never bothered management before when the alternative was money.

It is also not much fun for the media, which has to twiddle its opposables floating rumors that can’t be proven or disproven except on that one day when everyone works from midnight to midnight, wired to the eyelids on six-buck coffee and enough green tea to turn a gall bladder into a souvenir ash tray.

No, this is about making a worthwhile and ironclad trade deadline for the good of the sport, and the business.

Okay, this is about our amusement.

We all like trade deadlines. It gives order to the market, and it centers everyone’s focus on one hyper-adrenalized day to watch out for double-, triple- and quadruple-crosses from general managers wanting to jump each others’ action in search of their own personal Shattenkirks.

It spikes Verizon stock, it makes lots of business for movers and real estate vultures, it provides cheap and disposable fame for about two-thirds of the players in the league, and it makes everyone involved look like twitchy red-eyed zombies on television.

It beats the Bachelorette every time, because among other things it looks a lot more like parents do when they’ve been up all day and night with the colic farms.

In short, a trade deadline is a precious thing not to be discarded just because it’s inconvenient for a few suits and about-to-be-moved employees.

So yeah, Kevin Shattenkirk could have held another day or so. You know, for the good of the game.

 

Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

SAN JOSE – Less than 48 hours before the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday at noon, the Sharks’ brain trust has at least one important decision to make.

Are they comfortable rotating left wingers in and out of the Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski line, or should an upgrade be attempted via the trade market? There are a number of players said to be available that could provide the team with some forward depth and scoring punch ahead of the playoffs.

Seven different wingers have played on that so-called top line, none of them lasting more than one continuous stint there than Patrick Marleau from Nov. 21 – Jan. 3. 

In total, seven different players have started a game on that line, including Marleau (25 games), Tomas Hertl (13 games), Kevin Labanc (6 games), Mikkel Boedker (5 games), Timo Meier (4 games), Joel Ward (4 games) and Melker Karlsson (4 games). Injuries have played a role, of course, but it seems as if coach Pete DeBoer has been looking for someone to seize that position. 

Pavelski, though, didn’t seem overly worried about the ongoing alternation.

“We’ve had a few different players there, and I don’t think it’s a concern,” said the captain. “You’re always looking for chemistry and something set in stone if you can get it, but throughout a game, things change.”

DeBoer laid out what he’s looking for in a player to skate alongside Thornton and Pavelski, as well as the kind of player that wouldn’t fit in that role.

“You have to play [at Pavelski and Thornton’s] level and their work ethic,” said the coach. “They want the puck. They want to hunt the puck and want someone to get in there and retrieve pucks so that they can have possession. 

“I can tell you a guy who doesn’t fit would be a guy who is strictly a shooter, or kind of lets other people do the work and just goes to holes. They need somebody that’s going to work at their level and hunt the puck, so that’s got to be part of it.”

Labanc is the latest player to hold down that spot, starting there for the last four games and remaining there for Monday’s practice at Sharks Ice. Just 21 years old, Labanc has contributed a respectable seven goals and 18 points in his first 46 NHL games. Still, he hasn’t scored a goal in his last 22 games, and has just one assist and four total shots in the last four games.

It’s debatable whether the still-smallish Labanc is ready for the rigors of an NHL schedule on a full-time basis, which would make it dangerous for the Sharks to go into the postseason with someone like him in such a key position. DeBoer, though, praised the rookie’s recent efforts.

“I thought he’s done a good job. He’s got some of those [aforementioned] attributes,” DeBoer said. "He’s an offensive guy, [and] he thinks on their level offensively.”

Other teams in direct competition with the Sharks for a Western Conference title are adding pieces, particularly up front. Anaheim acquired scoring winger Patrick Eaves from Dallas, the Blackhawks brought in Detroit forward Tomas Jurco, and Minnesota gave up a haul to Arizona for center Martin Hanzal.

If the Sharks don’t make a move, they will likely go the whole season without bringing in a single player from the outside other than their young prospects. That would be unique, especially for a team that has championship aspirations.

Pavelski seemed to insinuate that he expects at least one body to arrive.

“Whoever we get, hopefully they’ll fill a little depth or add a little something, and we’ll go from there,” he said.

But if not?

“It doesn’t change anything if nothing happens, that’s for sure. We’re going to keep trying to get better.”