EDMONTON – Maybe he gets a little bit overlooked, just because he’s been doing for such a long darn time.
But, Sharks captain Joe Thornton is on top of his game. After his brilliant assist on the game-tying goal in Vancouver on Thursday, the 34-year-old factored in two of his team’s three goals in a 3-1 win in Edmonton on Friday night at Rexall Place. Thornton increased his point-scoring streak to seven games, with a goal and eight assists over that span.
[Instant Replay: Sharks take advantage of bumbling Oilers]
He’s at the top of the league’s leaderboard in helpers with 20, and with 22 points total, he leads the Sharks and is tied for seventh in the NHL in scoring.
“I feel good,” Thornton said after the game. “For me, I’ve just got to keep moving my legs. The linemates are huge for me obviously. … It just seems to be rolling right now.”
Point streak aside, coach Todd McLellan seems pleased with other aspects of Thornton’s game, too.
“We know that he can make plays and run the offense and do all that kind of stuff. But it’s the backcheck, it’s the tracking, it’s the defensive play, it’s the faceoffs, the shot-blocking that really fulfills his game,” McLellan said.
“It’s not always about the scoresheet, it’s about all the little things that he does. When he’s doing them and doing them properly, everybody seems to fall in line and follow.”
Thornton’s line with Tommy Wingels and Tomas Hertl has remained together lately, while the other three lines have been in flux. On Friday, the three worked together to generate a beautiful score on what ended up as the game-winning marker.
Thornton and Wingels barreled through the neutral zone up into the offensive zone after Jason Demers slapped it around the boards from center ice. Wingels provided enough of a distraction behind the net for Thornton to retrieve it and quickly find Hertl in front for an easy tap-in for the rookie.
Since joining Hertl and Thornton on that line late in a game against Buffalo on Nov. 5, Wingels has registered a point in four of six games. Hertl is scoring at an even more aggressive pace, with seven points in those six games (4g, 3a).
“We’re forechecking hard together,” Thornton said. “Me and Tomas have been together all year, but Tommy has picked up right where [Brent Burns] left off. He’s very competitive, shooting the puck well, and he’s just competing. The line seems to be going pretty good right now.”
There were other contributors, too, of course. McLellan, who made Marty Havlat a healthy scratch, changed around his remaining three forward lines once again. Joe Pavelski’s seventh goal (on the power play) and Patrick Marleau’s 10th goal rounded out San Jose’s offensive attack.
The Marleau, Logan Couture and James Sheppard line may have been even more effective than Thornton’s line against Edmonton.
“Tonight, we had some different guys step up and play really well,” said Couture, who finished with a game-high eight shots on goal, not including his shot that deflected off of the near post and then the far post in the third. “I thought ‘Shep’ on the line with Patty and I was excellent, and [he] showed he could play in a top six.”
Goalie Alex Stalock was also reliable once again, particularly in the second period, when the Oilers looked to capture the momentum after breaking a lengthy home scoreless drought with Nail Yakupov’s power play goal.
Stalock has won all three of his starts and is 3-0-0 with a 1.41 goals-against average and .952 save percentage. In each of his three starts, the Sharks have staked him a 2-0 lead at some point in the first period.
“I think you look at the guys in front of me, every game they’ve been able to go out and get goals early, which has helped calm me down a bit,” Stalock said. “And, [they] keep the pedal down too. It’s made life for me easy.”
McLellan said: “Again, he looked very comfortable in there, which was important for us. He had a busy second period, but stood his ground well. I think we have two goaltenders that we can rely on.”
They can also rely on their captain lately, whose play has helped turn a five-game losing streak into a three-game road winning streak.
“I have a lot of confidence right now,” Thornton said.