SAN JOSE –- It’s difficult to determine which 10-game streak is more impressive.
The Sharks improved to 8-0-2 in their last 10 games with a 6-1 beat down of the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night, their final game before the All-Star break, while future Hall of Fame center Joe Thornton increased his personal point-streak to 10 with a pair of assists.
It was Thornton’s line with Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski that set the tone early and didn’t allow the Sharks to take an early mental vacation with a week off on the horizon.
“He’s definitely led the way a lot of nights,” said Pavelski, whose second period power play goal on a feed through the slot was Thornton’s 1300th NHL point. “He definitely has some confidence and he’s making some great plays, and it’s typical Jumbo. It’s what he does.”
Had Thornton managed to get a point on Jan. 7 against Detroit, he’d be riding a 19-game scoring streak. As it is, he’s just one game away from his career long of 11.
Since Dec. 15, Thornton has managed 25 points, trailing only Chicago’s Patrick Kane (27) for the NHL lead over that span.
Sharks assistant coach Bob Boughner -– filling in for Pete DeBoer, who had to depart as soon as the game ended -– played against Thornton plenty of times during his 10-year NHL career that only ended in 2006. What are his impressions, now that he’s in the same dressing room as the 36-year-old veteran?
“He just doesn’t seem to get any older or slower or any worse,” Boughner said. “It’s almost [like] he gets better with age. I think the guys feed off that.
“When Joe is on, making plays like he’s making out there and playing as hard as he does away from the puck, that’s what impresses me the most. Enjoys the game every day. I think it’s very infectious for the whole team, especially the young guys.”
After a few good early shifts by the Thornton line -- including Hertl, who has been among the Sharks’ best players during their current run after he was promoted to Thornton’s left wing on Jan. 9 -- they managed to put the puck in the net at 10:13 of the opening frame. Hertl battled just outside of the crease and slipped home a Marc-Edouard Vlasic rebound to give the Sharks a 2-0 edge after Melker Karlsson’s deflection opened the scoring.
In the second, Pavelski’s power play marker on a two-man advantage set up by Thornton, and another score by Joel Ward while the Sharks were still on a five-on-four basically put the game away.
A common criticism of the Sharks over the years is that they have frequently sagged mentally. That didn’t happen on Tuesday when it easily could have, against a team that still has one more game to play on Wednesday and had won four in a row.
“That’s just a credit to the guys,” Pavelski said. “It’s everyone. It’s the team and the guys responding to how we need to play, and play hard and show up. That’s the biggest thing. That’s all the credit to each guy in here. It’s a fun way to play. No one has taken any shortcuts, and at the end of nights, we’ve been on top.”
"I think the way that we've been playing helps,” said Paul Martin, who had an empty net goal in the third period when the Avalanche pulled their goalie early.
Now comes the breather at a decidedly unfortunate time for the Sharks, who are playing an impressive brand of hockey. In one week, a tough four-game road trip opens in Anaheim against a Ducks team that is almost just as hot as the Sharks, going 10-3-1 in its last 14 and finally playing the way many expected them to before the season began.
Thornton said: “When you’re playing this good you don’t want a break. You just want to play every other day like we’ve been doing because you feel so good. We’ve been playing a lot of minutes. If the guys use the rest the right way we’ll be fine coming out of the break.”
Martin said: “Sometimes it's good to get a little break in the schedule and recharge the batteries. Maybe we'll be a little more hungry and keep it going when we get back."
If they do, it’s likely that Thornton will continue leading the charge.
“The team still goes as he goes, I think,” Boughner said. “We’ve got a great leadership group and he’s definitely the focal point of that group.”