On the night that Joe Thornton beat the Nashville Predators 5-4 with his 400th career NHL goal, his most extraordinary play might have been an uncredited assist.
The San Jose Sharks were seven minutes away from losing a 4-3 game that they had once led 3-0.
But then, another Joe, Pavelski (8), anticipated a Roman Josi (59) pass, forcing its receiver, Filip Forsberg (9), into a turnover.
Every Sharks skater touched the puck in this game-tying sequence: Justin Braun (61) sent it to Thornton (19), Thornton served Brent Burns (88), Burns backhanded it to Marcus Sorensen (20), then Sorensen returned the mail to Pavelski.
”It was a lot of little plays that led to that opportunity,” acknowledged Pavelski.
It was Thornton’s contribution, however, the uncounted third assist, that flashed a particular hockey genius.
Thornton knew Yannick Weber (7) was targeting him. Thornton knew Burns was coming from behind. Thornton knew he had to slow the Braun pass, so Burns could skate into it in stride.
“He for sure saw me,” said Burns.
While Erik Karlsson wasn’t talking about this exact play, he may as well have been, when asked about the challenge of facing Thornton’s anticipation, vision and touch. “You always have to be aware of where he is. He knows what he’s doing out there. If he gets the opportunities, you know he’s going to make you pay.”
Meanwhile, Thornton’s linemate Sorensen co-starred with a goal and two assists. The winger also led all forwards with a 88.9 percent Corsi For and a 87.5 percent High-Danger Corsi For (per Natural Stat Trick).
But it was little plays like these that will keep Sorensen in Pete DeBoer’s good graces, whether the Swede scores or not:
Up 3-0, this is winning #SJSharks hockey that will please DeBoer: Erik Karlsson pinches, Sorensen covers. Forward support for San Jose's aggressive offensive dmen was something DeBoer harped on after recent winless road trip pic.twitter.com/5mYUXus0gc— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) November 14, 2018
Recently, DeBoer had made a point of stressing forward support for attacking defensemen, “A big part of our game is our defensemen pushing up. There’s a responsibility on the forwards to make sure we’re backing them up.”
In the previous clip, Sorensen covered for Karlsson (65). In this clip, he covered for Burns:
It didn’t look like much at first, but Sorensen’s good defense led to better offense, namely his game-opening strike:
What if Sorensen hadn’t been there? What if the winger had joined Burns in searching for offense down low?
We might be talking about a different outcome, a game where Craig Smith (15) and Kyle Turris (8) gave the Predators a 1-0 lead on a 2-on-0 outnumbered attack.
Instead, we get the feels: