One of the many reasons why I look forward to the Winter Olympic Games starting in Vancouver next week is watching what we call here the HTML line compete for Team Canada. Will they be more dominant than Crosby's line? We sure hope so. Since the NHL players have been allowed to participate in the Olympics, there have not been too many lines on national teams that come from the same club. In fact, there have not been too many lines from the same club since the fall of the Soviet Union, when most of the players suiting up for USSR also played together for the Red Army club CSKA Moscow.
With that in mind, it's no wonder that Igor Rabiner of Sport-Express went as far as comparing Thornton-Heatley-Marleau line to the great KLM line of Krutov-Larionov-Makarov, as he is finally wrapping up a series of articles on San Jose Sharks going to the Olympics.
Rabiner began his interview with questions for Patrick Marleau.
Is your current line the best line you have played on?
Do you look forward to showing off the talent of your line at the Olympics?
Of course. I hope they let us play together and show what we've learned during this season.
Did Babcock indicate in any way that he's planning on playing you three together?
My understanding is that we'll start together and hopefully we'll do well and they'll keep us together.
In his further analysis, Rabiner makes a good point on size comparison. Stating how tall and big Thornton, Heatley and Marleau are, he states that they look like three unstoppable godzillas. The average height of that line is 6'3 and the average weight is 224 pounds. For comparison, Krutov-Larionov-Makarov line measured at the average of 5'10 and 182 pounds.
Says Todd McLellan:
All three guys are big guys. That's important. It lets physical strength compliment their skills.
Question for Marleau: Does the size help your line score and win more?
No doubt about that. We're trying to maximize our height and weight to create chances in front of the goal and this is what the coach is teaching us.
Todd McLellan further continues:
We can't lose or win because of one line. The other three have to contribute as well. If they don't, even the best line in the world can't constistently bring results. I can think of two instances when we may want to separate them - first when they lose chemistry. Second - when other lines lose chemistry. So we break up the leaders to strengthen all lines.
Have you considered putting Heatley next to Thornton and Marleau since you first acquired him from Ottawa?
Yes, that was the thinking from the very beginning, since we heard Dany is going to be a Shark. That's what we planned from the very beginning of the season but Joe Pavelski got injured, and we had to change our plans. Marleau had to center a different line. Since Pavelski is back, we now put Thornton, Marleau and Heatley together and they haven't been separated.
Evgeni Nabokov chips in:
Danny Boyle plays a key role in that frst line. Without him, Thornton and Marleau would have to start the attack from deep in their zone, and someone would be missing upfront. But we have Boyle, who's very good on the power play and in the transition game. That line scores so much because the other teams don't know who to cover.
Back to the thoughts from Todd McLellan.
I love thinking back on the time when I was on the coaching staff in Detroit and had a chance to work with Igor Larionov, among many others. But those Russians played differently from how Thornton's line play, and there were actually five of them [instead of three] No one played only defense or only offense, but all five of them controlled the puck well, trying to maximise the possession time. Our top line plays differently - they turn over the puck more, but they compensate for it through forecheck and through physical play. Igor and the Russian Five weren't really into that. On the other hand, Igor was the brain and the eyes of that line - just like Thornton is today here with us. Slava Kozlov had a great shot and knew how to open himself up in the offensive zone, just like Heatley. And Sergei Fedorov provided speed, just like Marleau.
How do you explain the Thornton phenomenon? It doesn't always happen that the three stars put together form a good unit.
Joe is a great passer. His big size allows him to use his body to control and protect the puck from his opponents. Patty gives that line his speed and a great shot. Dany is always ready to score, and has a tremendous shot and the ability to find holes in the opposing team's defense. Add size to that recipe and you have a collection of ingredients that I really like.
Of course, Rabiner couldn't pass up on the opportunity to talk to Marleau about the loss of captaincy.
Did it hurt for you to lose the "C" in the off-season?
No, that's not a problem. I only want to do what it takes to help the team win.
Others say that it helped you relax. Do you agree?
Since you're at the top of the goalscoring race in the NHL, do you want to win the Rocket Richard Trophy?
Of course, that would be great. I have great partners on my line who are helping me with that. It wouldn't be possible without them. But I try not to think about this too much.
Who's your favorite NHL sniper?
Why not Ovechkin, Crosby or Kovalchuk?
I like those guys, but Gaborik's speed is simply amazing.
Interestingly enough, just like KLM line, all three Sharks on Thornton's line have left handed shot. Question for McLellan -
Does that complicate their game?
I think it makes it easier in many ways. When you have a line with left handed and right handed shots, sometimes you see them standing too much - and players shouldn't be receiving the puck while they're standing. Those guys have to move all the time, otherwise you can't score from a one-timer. It also confused the opponents.