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SAN JOSE – In a career that’s arguably already worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Sharks captain Joe Thornton may be playing some of the best hockey of his career.
And, the NHL’s assist leader with 42, including 11 in his last seven games, thinks it’s only going to get better at the calendar turns to 2014.
“I feel like every year, I’ve just been getting better and better,” said Thornton, a pending unrestricted free agent.
He may have one of his linemates to thank, as the chemistry was almost instant when Thornton was put on a line with converted defenseman Brent Burns late last season.
On March 14, at the time of the line change, Thornton was in a bit of a scoring slump, at least by his standards. He managed just 11 points in his previous 19 games, and not surprisingly, the Sharks were having trouble as a team scoring goals and winning games. The playoffs looked like a long shot, the way things where going.
After Burns was put on the right side of Thornton, though, the captain started producing at a more regular pace again. Thornton finished the season with 15 points in the last 23 regular season games, and another 10 points in 11 playoff games.
They’ve renewed that chemistry this season, after Burns had all offseason to train and prepare as a forward.
“Probably a roll over from last year, with me and Burnzie as a pair, we’re probably just getting better knowing where each other are,” Thornton said. “As a playmaker, I think you can add more chemistry as you play with a guy for a certain period of time. It just gets better with me and Burnzie right now.”
Sharks coach Todd McLellan, in his sixth season behind the bench, suggested this might be the best he’s ever seen Thornton play. Thornton is on pace for 90 points, which would be his highest total since 2007-08, the final year under Ron Wilson.
“You get so accustomed to seeing Jumbo and all the little things that he does, that sometimes you overlook it. It can’t be that way, we have to appreciate what he brings to the team every day,” McLellan said.
“His ability to set people up and create offense has been maybe as strong as I’ve seen in my six years here, especially over the last little bit. … There’s nothing that surprises me, but he’s just doing it at a vey elite level right now.”
Thornton admits that he takes pride in leading the league in assists, and seeing his name among the NHL's scoring leaders. He’s tied for third with Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf with 47 points, trailing only Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane.
“Yeah, but you just try to keep going,” he said. “Really, when you’re on a hot streak, you just try to keep going. When you put the work in, usually results tend to happen. That’s all we’ve been doing, or all I’ve been doing.”