What A Difference A Day Made

What a difference a day made, twenty four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers where there use to be rain

Well, not quite.  Still, for Joe Thornton, one day has made quite a bit of difference.  After being held to two assists through four games, Sharks fans were getting quite upset with Thornton.  Here's a sampling of threads created over at the San Jose Sharks wing of HFBoards:

  • Is there anyone who actually still wants Joe Thornton on this team?
  • Destination for Regular Season Joe?
  • Great TSN clips on Below Average Joe
  • "Regular Season Joe"
  • It's time to trade Thornton Nabokov and Marleau
  • Joe and Patty should watch Game 5 from the pressbox

Last night Joe Thornton scored a goal, helped set up two others (including the game-winner) and hit a goal-post besides.  He now leads the team in scoring with five points in five games.  His playoff points-per-game is a shade ahead of Pavel Datsyuk and is easily the best of any Sharks player since he joined the team. 

No doubt Thornton's playoff performance could be better.  But it's hardly as bleak as has been painted; his struggles reflect those of the team.  His .88 playoff points-per-game record in San Jose is not flattering, but let's take a moment and compare it with that of his teammates (the number in brackets reflects the percent difference between playoffs and regular season):

  1. Thornton: 0.88 Pts/GM (-31%)
  2. Marleau: 0.78 Pts/GM (-13%)
  3. Cheechoo: 0.63 Pts/GM (-19%)
  4. Clowe: 0.57 Pts/GM (-3%)
  5. Pavelski: 0.46 Pts/GM (-25%)
  6. Michalek: 0.39 Pts/GM (-47%)
  7. Ekman: 0.36 Pts/GM (-52%)
  8. Setoguchi: 0.36 Pts/GM (-45%)
  9. Roenick: 0.35 Pts/GM (-15%)
  10. Bernier: 0.32 Pts/GM (-37%)
  11. Rissmiller: 0.23 Pts/GM (-12%)
  12. Guerin: 0.22 Pts/GM (-61%)
  13. Smith: 0.21 Pts/GM (-32%)
  14. Goc: 0.19 Pts/GM (-5%)
  15. Mitchell: 0.19 Pts/GM (-21%)
  16. Nieminen: 0.18 Pts/GM (+6%)
  17. S. Thornton: 0.18 Pts/GM (-40%)
  18. Grier: 0.17 Pts/GM (-51%)
  19. McCauley: 0.17 Pts/GM (-50%)
  20. Brown: 0.11 Pts/GM (-58%)
  21. Shelley: 0.00 Pts/GM (-100%)
  22. Moen: 0.00 Pts/GM (-100%)
  23. Stevenson: 0.00 Pts/GM (-100%)
  24. Bell: 0.00 Pts/GM (-100%)
  25. Plihal: 0.00 Pts/GM (-100%)
  26. Lemieux: 0.00 Pts/GM (-100%)

It isn't so much that Thornton deserves to be completely let off of the hook, because his 31% drop in offense is certainly significant.  I do think though that fans are using him as a convenient scape goat: 9 Sharks have seen their offense drop off less in the playoffs, 16 Sharks have seen a bigger drop in offense.  The simple fact of the matter is that the Sharks haven't played well as a team in the playoffs, and that Joe Thornton is their biggest scoring star and thus the easiest player to blame.  In reality, Thornton's struggles mirror the team's struggles.

There's been a 9% dropoff in total offense in the playoffs league-wide, meaning that -9% is roughly the break-even point for lost offense; anyone below that total is losing more offense than the average NHL player.  Looking at this list, there are a lot of core players for the Sharks not delivering offense in the playoffs - so while Thornton deserves some criticism, there's really nothing terribly surprising about his lack of offense when it's considered in context with the rest of his team. 

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