It is a coach's greatest tool to send a message, to make a point. And whether that statement is made in order to elevate the performance of an individual player, the team as a whole, or both, it always has the potential to serve as a wake up call.
In a 4-1 win against the Minnesota Wild last night, Joe Thornton was relegated to the third line with wingers Torrey Mitchell and Ryane Clowe, a far cry from the premier goal scorers of Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau that he has spent a notable portion of the year with. And as Ivano mentioned in last night's recap, Thornton saw a huge decrease in his even strength time because of it.
What interested me however, was the amount of shorthanded time McLellan divvied out to the All-Star centerman. Throughout the course of the last six games, Thornton's ice time has shown some interesting trends:
Joe Thornton (6 GP)
|event ||EV TOI ||RK ||SH TOI ||RK ||PP TOI ||RK
Up until last night Thornton's even strength ice had remained relatively stable in comparison to his forward counterparts-- the same can be said for his shorthanded ice time. But against Minnesota, McLellan drastically reduced the amount of time he spent on the ice at even strength and tapped him an inordinate amount while on the penalty kill.
Taken as a snapshot these numbers can be fairly deceiving-- one of San Jose's best penalty killers in Scott Nichol was out of the lineup, and Jed Ortmeyer was just coming back from injury. Todd McLellan has historically eased players back into their shorthanded roles, and this may account for the amount of time Thornton saw on the kill.
But coupled with his decreased even strength time over the last three games, I think a case could be made that McLellan was attempting to send a message through his star player. In fact, it may not have even been solely for Thornton alone-- the team as a whole has had a hard time performing defensively this season, and this allocation of ice time could serve as a canvass for McLellan to paint the picture that, "Hey, everyone is accountable here. We need to get better in our own zone, and that starts with our top-end offensive players."
As it should. And as it will, if San Jose is going build upon last night's win as they make their way towards April.