If Rangers are Soft, What are Sharks?

By Alexander Monaghan
President 

Following tonight’s disappointing 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks captain Joe Thornton felt the need to blow off steam. Instead of giving his opponent credit for playing a better game, he downplayed the victors. According to Chris Botta of the New York Times, via Twitter, Thornton said “They were probably the softest team we played on this trip. We should have had these 2 points.”

Although the Sharks won their previous five games, they did so against three slumping teams — New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings — and did so with only an eight-goal differential. Two of their victories were won by only one goal, the other three games all had empty net goals.

These Sharks are certainly a strong team. They feature two scoring lines with speed to burn. Their additions of Martin Havlat, Brent Burns, Michal Handzus, Andrew Murray and Colin White have all helped on both ends of the ice. However, tough they are not.

Who knows what Thornton was thinking by berating a team the Sharks will not play again this season; perhaps frustration set in. How many hits has Jumbo Joe laid down on the team’s opponents this season? Three. Last season he registered 56 checks which matches Mats Zuccarello‘s total over 42 games. Fifteen members of the Rangers out-hit Thornton, maybe he simply thought he was still playing their 2005-2006 rendition.

Team toughness and grit is certainly not everything. Nevertheless, what was Thornton thinking? The Sharks rank fifth in total hits this season. Last season they ranked 17th in the League, 17 behind the Rangers’ top ranking. This attitude has prevented the Sharks from advancing past the Western Conference Finals two years in a row or shedding the dreaded ‘choker’ label. While undeniably talented, flat defensive efforts and untimely poor netminding from Antti Niemi will not get them far in the playoff picture. They have become the biggest enigma in the Western Conference, perhaps the entire league.

Thornton himself has been a model of inconsistency over the past few years. His point totals continue to decline without any identifiable pattern. He no longer is the centerpiece of the team’s offense with Logan Couture manning a powerful second line and outscoring him last season. His wingers, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, help make up for wherever his game is lacking as the organization moves towards a team-oriented system.

The quote, or misquote, likely was misconstrued by local media as it comes after a somewhat shocking performance. Not all of us have to deal with cameras and tape recorders rolling while frustration sets in. The captain likely remembers that their five-game win streak came pretty tough and they expected to defeat a struggling club. His comments could actually be a roundabout way of holding the team accountable for the loss, opposed to saying they were outplayed. All part of the growing pains of a winning team — one that continues to learn that they simply will not win on paper.