2010 NHL Playoffs: Can Shark Ryane Clowe's Performance Wake Up Joe Thornton?

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IApril 22, 2010

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 04: Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates his first-period goal with Ryane Clowe #29 during NHL action against the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 4, 2009 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

"It is a brand new series." "Best of seven turned into a best of three."

San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski tied up San Jose's first-round series with the Colorado Avalanche at two games apiece on Tuesday night with a wicked wrist shot at 10:24 of overtime.

Pavelski's clutch game-winning goal gave the Sharks much-deserved new life after dominating most of the series' first four games. Had he failed to score, San Jose might have been facing a second straight 3-1 series deficit.

Last season, the Sharks went down 3 games to 1 to the Anaheim Ducks when they were blown out by a 4-0 final in game 4 of the series. That loss made winning three games in a row a daunting task.

Not only was it a difficult to win three in a row, but the fact that San Jose was playing so poorly made it almost impossible for it to overcome the 3-1 deficit. And as we all know, the Sharks weren't able to get it done.

Fortunately, this year is a different story.

Unlike last year, the Sharks have been controlling the play almost every game, and thanks to Pavelski's heroics, San Jose takes a 2-2 series tie back home for Game Five.

Furthermore, through the first four games, the Avalanche have benefited from two lucky bounces to steal their victories.

Other than those two wins, and one poor outing by Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose's 6-5 victory in OT, the Sharks have been all over Colorado.

It is no question the Sharks have been the better team thus far in the series.

Compared to last year's first round, the Sharks have looked like a completely different squad.

However, the offensive domination seen by the Sharks in this first round series has come from mostly a single line.

San Jose's "second-line" featuring Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, and Ryane Clowe has accounted for five of the Sharks' nine goals, including both game winners.

The leader of the line, Ryane Clowe, has been the best player on the ice for either team and it was his play that led to both of San Jose's game-winning goals, "coincidentally" scored by each of his linemates.

After a two-assist performance in Game Four, Clowe leads all skaters in the series with five points (1G, 4A), and has done so by playing smart, simple hockey.

As one of the few Newfoundland natives in the NHL, Clowe, has used his large frame (6'2", 225 pounds) to his advantage along the boards at both ends of the ice.

The former sixth-round pick back in 2001 had a career year in the regular season with 57 points and is already having a playoff to remember. No. 29 in teal is as close to an immovable object as a player can be in the NHL.

Thus far in the series Clowe has given Avalanche defenseman fits by holding onto the puck for what seems like eternity each and every shift.

In the offensive zone in particular, Clowe has led dominant shifts cycling the puck again and again before attacking the net or shooting when the opportunity arises.

Now if the Sharks are going to break their string of early postseason exits and at least reach the the third round, they will need Clowe to continue his strong play.

However, Clowe and his linemates are going to need some help from the Sharks' "top line" featuring Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, and Joe Thornton, before they reach that success.

While Heatley is clearly injured to a significant degree, Marleau hasn't been playing up to his normal self during this series and neither has Thornton.

But for the sake of this piece, why not focus on the former league MVP and scoring leader?

At 6'4" 235 pounds, Thornton, should be a better version of Ryane Clowe. In fact, during the regular season, he is exactly that. Thornton owns the boards and is a more gifted passer than his teammate.

Unfortunately, he hasn't nearly played up to that level in this opening-round series.

Why has that been the case? Why isn't Thornton playing as well as Clowe?

Thornton hasn't been playing nearly close to Clowe's level because he continues to rely way too heavily on his skill rather than his sheer athletic prowess.

Instead of using his NFL tight-end type body to shield defenders and tire them out along the boards, Thornton is soft on his stick, and still looks to force the pretty pass across ice instead of holding onto the puck and making the simple play.

Now when Thornton is one of three players to record back-to-back 90-plus assist seasons (joining NHL greats Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux) it is understandable that he is a pass-first player.

But that said, the NHL playoffs are a different game and those tape-to-tape passes that end up in Dany Heatley one-timer goals rarely, if ever happen.

Playoff goals are most often scored on either rebounds, weird bounces, or deflections.

Therefore, instead of looking to thread the needle on passes, Thornton needs to put his head down and follow the path that Clowe is paving for the rest of the team.

"Jumbo" needs to do a better job of eating up the clock by being strong on his stick and controlling the puck down low.

There is no rush to getting the puck to the net when there isn't a lane, or isn't a teammate open for the pass. Rather than attack the net right away without any help, possess the puck as long as possible.

The longer a cycle lasts behind the net, the better chance a prime scoring opportunity will develop as the defense is worn down on a long shift.

If Thornton can start emulating Clowe's play in the next few games, the Sharks might have two scoring lines dominating in the offensive zone.

And when that happens, well, good luck to Colorado and whoever else the Sharks may face this postseason because for as good as the Sharks have played in this series, they haven't even sniffed the surface of their potential.

After all, their best player has yet to even wake up.


This article was originally published at sjshockey.com and can also be seen here:



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