Ryane Clowe's decision to drop the gloves is coming at the right time

Ryane Clowe has earned rave reviews this season, and not just for his offensive output. His willingness to call out his teammates on nights when the effort level isn't there, his presence along the boards during the low cycle, and his gritty play in front of the net have all been lauded as important traits. And yet, perhaps his biggest contribution to the team this season has been his willingness to stand up for his teammates.

As Captain Joe Thornton explained to the Mercury News' Mark Emmons after last Wednesday's game against Calgary, it's something that the locker room has a lot of respect for.

“Logan is such a young player, and such a good young player, that I think Ryane looks at him like his little brother out there,” Thornton explained. “That’s his guy. So you don’t take liberties with him. I think that was the message Ryane was sending on that one.”

That “one” was a reference to Clowe dropping the gloves with Calgary’s Cory Sarich last Wednesday night. Some of Clowe’s punches glanced off Sarich’s helmet, and Thornton said players on the Sharks bench noticed.

“Ryane is a big part of team as well, and you don’t necessarily want him to fight at this time of year,” Thornton said. “But it’s just the nature of him. He’s such a responsible guy. When somebody takes a liberty like that, it’s the code of hockey that teammates stand up. Ryane was just being a good teammate.”

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Since Ryane Clowe has been one of the most important Sharks forwards this season offensively and is recently coming off a fight with Paul Bissonnette after the Phoenix forward got in the face of Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the time is ripe to take a look at Clowe's decision to drop the gloves. In what situations is he choosing to throw some haymakers? Do his fights come with the game tied in the third period where his emotions get the best of him? Or is he picking his spots selectively, ensuring that a five minute trip to the penalty box is justified and doesn't put the team at a disadvantage?

Ryane Clowe's 2010-2011 Fight Card

Period Score Goal Dif.
Team Player
2nd Tied
0 Columbus Mike Commodore
SJS trails 3-0
-3 Calgary
Tim Jackman
SJS leads 4-1 +3 New Jersey
Matt Corrente
SJS leads 2-0
+2 Anaheim
Sheldon Brookbank
SJS trails 2-0
-2 Columbus Jared Boll
SJS leads 3-1
+2 Chicago Troy Brouwer
SJS leads 1-0
+1 St. Louis
B.J. Crombeen
0 Buffalo Mike Weber
0 Edmonton Theo Peckham
SJS leads 2-1
+1 Calgary Tim Jackman
SJS leads 5-3
+2 Calgary Cory Sarich
SJS leads 4-1
+3 Phoenix Paul Bisonette

By and large Clowe has picked his spots rather well when he decides to drop the gloves-- out of his twelve total fights this season, only two have come with the Sharks trailing in the game. Considering he's one of the team's leading scorers, Clowe's decisions to stay out of the penalty box when goals are at a premium is an important attribute for one of the team's tough guys.

Furthermore, only three of his fights have come in the third period. That includes Saturday's bout with Bissonnette, a point in the game where the Sharks were holding a three goal lead with time dwindling down.

The only issue many have with Clowe's fighting decisions is who he chooses to match up against. Due to the nature of the current team's construction, there's no pre-assigned "heavyweight" that patrols the ice for 4:00 a game. As I've argued in the past, that's an excellent choice for an organization-- it makes the fourth line more dangerous considering there is a more diverse skill set each player brings to the table (instead of a player's only asset being the ability to throw a dirty right cross), and doesn't shorten your bench during the postseason.

However, the only downside to a situation to a team that doesn't have an enforcer is when a teammate does receive some unwarranted physical abuse. This season, when a player does get that physical treatment, one of the first players to join in the fracas is Ryane Clowe. Jamal Mayers is another player who will consistently stand up for his teammates, but considering his widely varying ice time as well as his role as a fourth liner, Mayers isn't presented with as many situations to immediately jump in and police an opposing team.

This leads to a situation where Clowe is fighting players well below his skill level.

Ryane Clowe's 2010-2011 Fighting Opponents

# Fights vs
6 43.5
Forwards 6 67.83
Ryane Clowe
- 72

On average Clowe's opponents are as follows-- third line defenseman and third/fourth line forwards. And while his selections on when to fight has been one that has stressed patience and responsibility to the team, Clowe's decisions on who to fight has been one that may cause concern during the upcoming postseason. Since Clowe has been the typical enforcer for San Jose, a situation may present itself where he feels compelled to fight a fourth line forward. And unless the game is well out of hand at that point, keeping him available for five minutes will likely outweigh a five minute trip to the penalty box.

As history indicates however, Clowe's responsibility when choosing what time of the game to fight is not exclusive to the 2010-2011 regular season.

Clowe's postseason career has only seen him drop the mitts once at the NHL level. In game two of the 2007 first round matchup against the Nashville Predators, and the Sharks down 5-2 with a minute left to play, Clowe went after Scott Hartnell following a faceoff, retaliating for a dirty knee on knee hit against Jonathan Cheechoo in game one. The reason he took so long for redemption? Game one went to double overtime, and game two saw the Sharks rebound from a 4-1 deficit to cut the lead to two early in the third period. After an empty net goal with a minute remaining in game two the writing was on the wall for San Jose, and dropping the gloves became acceptable.

It is likely that Logan Couture will be targeted this postseason by opposing teams, for no other reason than he is a young player who has had a brilliant year as one of the Sharks most important forwards. If I'm an opposing coach I stress this to my players-- if you are able to take some liberties with Couture in the corners within the rulebook, push the envelope and get Clowe to come to his defense. Those "big brother" instincts Thornton spoke of at the beginning of the article are an emotional tool to use, especially if the player doing the instigating falls into the category of player Clowe usually has to fight against-- fourth line forwards and third pairing defenseman.

It will be up to Clowe to take the high road and allow Couture to take a little extra punishment this postseason. It will be up to Clowe to make an informed decision on whether or not the Sharks can afford to have him out for five minutes at a crucial point in the game.

Thankfully, that's something he has already been doing this season.

And there's nothing here that indicates Clowe will change his stripes once the emotion of postseason games kick into high gear.