Joe Thornton picked up his 1,000th assist on an empty net. That part makes sense. He got his 999th assist on an unmanned net, too. In a year where Thornton hasn’t reached the heights of a point-per game season, the top line dominated the Jets last night and combined for two goals in a 3-2 victory.
Thornton and Pavelski led the Sharks at even strength with a +5 corsi differential despite only starting 25 percent of their shifts in the offensive zone. They, like everyone else on the Sharks, had no answer for the Joshua Morrissey and Jacob Trouba pairing but demolished the Tobias Enstrom-Dustin Byfuglien combo as the below chart from HockeyViz.com illustrates.
I was skeptical of putting Melker Karlsson on the top line again, where his results have been more mixed than Kevin Labanc’s over the past season, but it paid off last night. Whether that should keep head coach Pete DeBoer from trying the new guy (Jannik Hansen) up there on Thursday against the Capitals, I’m less certain, but the top line played as well as it has in several games and that’s a very good sign for the Sharks.
Thornton in particular made great plays on Monday night and, as the old cliche goes, just made the rest of his teammates better. Pavelski scored twice, once assisted by Jumbo and the other time on a play Thornton would have gotten an assist on if they gave out tertiary assists in the NHL. They shouldn’t, but in the moment I think every Sharks fan in the world was ready to make an argument for it.
Thornton makes a great initial pass to set the whole play up from down below the faceoff dot. Brenden Dillon takes just a little too long to get the shot away but is able to get it on net. That creates an opportunity for Melker Karlsson, who doesn’t waste any time getting the puck on goal. Connor Hellebuyck makes an amazing initial save but Pavelski jumps on the rebound to put San Jose on top. No assist No. 1,000 for Old Man Jumbo yet.
And then it looked like it wasn’t coming later in the game, either. For the second game in a row the Sharks tried their hardest to get Thornton that nice, round number late in the contest (this time with, you know, the game on the line). They had a chance with a minute to play but Winnipeg, much like the team did all night, got in shooting lanes to prevent a San Jose empty netter.
But the Jets couldn’t stop history forever.
And it came on a secondary assist on a game-winning empty net goal against the Winnipeg Jets, on the road on a Monday in March. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Classic Jumbo.