NHL Playoffs 2016: Joe Thornton the key for the Sharks again
Jumbo set the tone for San Jose against the Kings.
Joe Thornton didn't lead the Sharks in points in the first round. Hell, Thornton's three points put him in a tie with Joonas Donskoi for sixth amongst San Jose skaters. Still, Thornton's incredible possession play proved key, again, as the Sharks thoroughly handled their biggest rivals in the first round of the playoffs.
After San Jose lost game three, much was said about the Sharks' need for contributions from players not named Joe. Getting scoring from all four lines is on every team's wishlist, but the reality for San Jose is that Thornton needs to be their engine. He was that in the first round. Based on the level of competition he faced, Thornton is arguably the playoff leader in team possession impact.
This chart is, admittedly, pretty dense. If you squint very hard you'll see Thornton up in the top right corner of this chart. The further to the right a player, the tougher his opponents and the further to the top, the better his impact on his team's possession. So despite playing against the Kings' best players, Thornton continued to drive possession — and truthfully is the reason San Jose ended up out-possessing Los Angeles in the first round.
In all situations Thornton's score-adjusted, relative fenwick for percentage sits at 21.57. That puts him eighth in the NHL during the playoffs (Alex Ovechkin is first at 25.53). With Thornton on the ice, the Sharks FF% 65.41 — when he's not? It's a meager 43.83. Turn those numbers to 5v5 and Thornton's on-ice percentage is 55.59 compared to 50.63 off it. San Jose did well in 5v5 play, but they did best with Thornton on the ice.
Whether the Sharks play Anaheim or Nashville in the second round, San Jose will continue to rely on Thornton to shut down its opponents' best players...mostly because that's what San Jose has relied on all season long. Thornton's best case for the Hart Trophy is the Sharks' meekness when he's off the ice.
Thornton's relFF% in the regular season is 7.20 — when he's not on the ice the Sharks' FF% sits at just 51.2. The Sharks go as Thornton goes; thankfully, Jumbo Joe is playing as well as he has his entire career. If he scores as well in the second round as he played in the first round, the Sharks are in a good position. Plenty of San Jose players deserve credit for the impressive first-round win, but don't forget about Jumbo. They wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for him.