Joe Thornton's "Iron Man" streak comes to a close

It was a ride that spanned his entire career as a San Jose Shark, and one that Joe Thornton himself took a lot of pride in. An ironman willing to deal with the physically demanding life of an NHL superstar, Thornton had managed to dress for every single game the Sharks played since being traded from the Boston Bruins on November 30, 2005. He skated through hooks, slashes, opposing team's top blueliners, and harsh scrutiny from the fanbase and media for 379 straight games in San Jose.

On Saturday night that streak was placed in jeopardy-- on Sunday afternoon, it was gone.

Following a brutal collision with the boards during the second period against the Vancouver Canucks, Thornton was scratched for the first time in San Jose with what is reported to be a "day to day lower body injury". Looking at the tape of the collision, it is clear that this is a right knee ailment, with varying degrees of severity depending on who you ask. How long he will remain on the shelf, of course, remains to be seen.

David Pollak of Working The Corners reports that Thornton will undergo diagnostic testing today. As of right now, he is slated to travel with the team on their upcoming four game road trip which will end in Calgary a week from tomorrow.

Thornton's injury comes at an unfortunate time for an organization looking to gain momentum going into the postseason. He is arguably the most important player outside of Evgeni Nabokov on the current roster, and as we examined yesterday, the effects of having him in the press box can be felt from lines one to four.

Since the lockout he has been an absolute machine-- both in the points category, as well as in games played:

GP Leaders (post-lockout)

Jay Bouwmeester
403 49
144 193
Daniel Sedin
403 93
322 415
Joe Thornton
402 124
382 506
Brad Boyes
401 132
159 291
Andrew Brunette
401 115
196 311
Martin St. Louis
401 156
257 413
Zach Parise
399 157
170 327
Scott Hannan
397 15
79 94

Notable current Sharks on this list include Dany Heatley (tied for 22nd with 392 GP), and Patrick Marleau (tied for 35th with 388 GP).

As impressive as Thornton's run was, and it is quite impressive, what jumped out at me were the numbers Martin St. Louis has managed to accrue. Undrafted out of the University of Vermont, and coming in at a less than imposing 5'9 177 pound frame, St. Louis has only missed two games with a broken finger since NHL arenas closed their doors to public in 2004.

Big Joe has proved time and time again that he is able to play through any non-crippling ailment. 402 games since the lockout, no matter how well he takes care of the body during the offseason, lends one to believe Thornton has played through his fair share of bumps and bruises.

Information on his current prognosis will probably be about as sparse as they come until he returns, due to the NHL's partial disclosure policy when disseminating injury information. The lack of relative interest in the gambling and fantasy sports industries, compared to American's interest in the NFL, gives the league more leeway to pursue this policy. The fact that it offers some form of protection for the players during the playoffs, when any injury can be used by opposing coaches looking for an edge, is also a likely factor.

This policy was voted on by the NHL's 30 General Managers, and implemented at the beginning of the 2008-2009 season.

Whether or not Thornton returns to the team for Wednesday's game against Dallas won't change the notion that he is a durable player--the case has been all but closed in that regard. The hope is that Thornton will be close to 100% come mid-April, because as frustrating as his play can be sometimes, he is a huge asset to this team, and one that could be the difference between a deep run and early exit.

Thornton has cemented his reputation as an iron man; here's to the hope he will have an opportunity to change a far different reputation this spring.

Go Sharks.