Why Joe Thornton and Evgeni Nabokov Only Pose as "Leaders"

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IApril 24, 2009

SAN JOSE, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Joe Thornton #19 and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov #20 of the San Jose Sharks clean up equipment that was left on the ice following a fight in the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at HP Pavilion on December 20, 2007 in San Jose, California. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-2 in an overtime shoot out.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

After blowing their home-ice advantage by losing the first two games in San Jose, the Sharks have failed miserably to tie up their series with the Ducks by failing to win Game Four in Anaheim. 

Not only did they fail to tie up the series, they didn't even score a goal in Game Four, the second time in the series in which they have been shutout by a rookie goaltender in Jonas Hiller.

The 4-0 loss sends the Sharks back to San Jose down 3-1 in the series against the eighth seeded Ducks. Multiple NHL analysts indeed picked the Ducks to upset the President's Trophy winning Sharks, but nobody predicted them to beat the Sharks as easily as Anaheim beaten them thus far in the series.

For the past three seasons, the Shark faithful have been able to adequately argue that the Sharks are not the choke artists that fans of all other 29 NHL teams find them to be.

However, if the Sharks fail to get past the second round for the fourth time in a row, (which is extremely likely, considering they aren't looking good at all to get out of the first round) the Bay-Area faithful following this team will have nothing left to say but "Our Sharks are choke artists."

Now, as a die-hard fan who often claims to "bleed teal," I find this article to be one of the most difficult I have ever had to write and there are a few reasons why that is:

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No. 1: Christmas 2005, I got a Joe Thornton Jersey.

April 2009: I feel as if Thornton no longer deserves to wear a Shark jersey.

No. 2: 2007-2008: I vehemently argued that Nabokov deserved the Vezina Trophy.

April 2009: I feel as if Nabokov no longer deserves to wear a Shark jersey.

Now, before any one thinks that this piece is being written in angst of a depressing 4-0 loss, let me tell you that this article is being written in the best mood I have had all week.

Let's begin with why Joe Thornton should no longer be a San Jose Shark.

First off, the Sharks traded away three quality players to the Boston Bruins back in 2005 for Thornton. Granted, the Bruins have only kept one of those players, Marco Sturm, and he is currently injured, as his Bruins move on to the second round after a four-game sweep of Montreal.

However, despite the fact that Sharks fans have felt they "stole" Thornton from Boston and often held signs of "Thank You Boston" over the past four seasons, is it really too far-fetched to think that Boston got the better end of the deal?

Look where they are now: They are the odds-on favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup finals. The Sharks on the other hand, well, they are the league's biggest choke artists.

Granted, Jumbo Joe Thornton is the king of the regular season, his playoff performance has never been close to the scoring clip that he continually plays at during the season.

In 35 career playoff games for the Sharks, the former Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner has registered only 32 points, less than one per game. Meanwhile, over the past four regular seasons including the beginning of 2005-06 with Boston, Thornton has averaged 105 points while playing 82 games, significantly over one point per game.

If the Sharks truly have one goal, to win the Stanley Cup, then they may want to re-think whether or not they want Thornton on their roster. He continually seems to shut-down rather than step up his game when it matters most.

Specifically in Game Four against the Ducks, it was Thornton's giveaway that led to Anaheim's game clinching goal when Corey Perry made the score 3-0 with under six minutes to play.

On the play, Thornton attempted to do what he always does, he attempted to slow things down in his own zone. But when he lost the puck to the Ducks fore-checkers (who were actually moving their feet) he made a costly mistake. In his haste to recover the puck, Jumbo Joe cleared the puck up the middle of his zone without looking up and gave up the puck right to Getzlaf who put the puck on net and Perry deflected it in.

In interviews, Thornton had been nonchalant about his poor performance in the playoffs throughout his career, and Sharks fans were OK with that attitude

Until now.

If Thornton had one more chance to prove the doubters wrong, this was the year to do it, as the Sharks had the most talent on their roster than they had ever had in their previous 17 seasons.

But if the Sharks fail to come back to beat the Ducks, Thornton is one of the players that may have to find a new team come next season. The playoffs are the time of year when top players have to be at their best, and Thornton continually does not get the job done.

The other Shark that may need to find a change in scenery to keep Sharks fans from going insane is goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. Ever since the emergence of Vesa Toskala a few years back, there has been a rather significant group of Sharks fans who have been anti-Evgeni Nabokov.

However, I was not one of them. Although I preferred Toskala during the offseason when the Sharks decided they needed to trade one of their goalies, I have always been a Nabokov fan. Quite often during games at the Tank, you will see my doing the "We're not worthy, We're not worthy" hand motions when Nabokov is announced as the starting goaltender.

Despite that, I have come to the conclusion that Nabokov is not the goaltender to lead the Sharks to their first ever Stanley Cup.

Granted, Nabokov has been deemed one of the league's top goaltenders, but ever since he came into the league in 2000, the Sharks goalie just does not provide the sound goaltending when his team needs it most.

For example, in this series, Nabokov, a supposed "elite" goaltender, has registered an .888 save percentage, turning away 87 of 98 shots. However, his counterpart on the Ducks, rookie Jonas Hiller, has registered a ridiculous .959 save percentage, stopping 139 of 145 shots, with two shutouts in only his first ever playoff series.

Isn't playoff experience for a goaltender suppose to mean something? Or is it just the fact that Jonas Hiller is just flat-out a better goalie?

One can argue that Nabokov doesn't face many shots and therefore his save percentage is lower than most because one or two goals on 18 shots is going to make out to a lower percentage than three or four goals on 40 shots.

However, it can go both ways, more shots faced means a greater chance to improve the percentage, but it also means for a greater chance for goals to go in.

Therefore, if Nabokov is only facing a minimal amount of shots per game, then he is the goaltender who should be pitching multiple shutouts in this series, not Hiller. The fact is that Hiller is out playing him. 

It is easy to see how Hiller is outperforming Nabokov by simply taking a look at their regular season numbers.

Hiller's save percentage in the regular season was .919, Nabokov's was .910.

In fact, for being a supposed "elite" goaltender, Nabokov's save percentage for the season was behind goalies Craig Anderson, Nikolai Khabibulin, Scott Clemensen, Chris Mason, Jaroslav Halak, Dwayne Roloson, Jon Quick, Antero Nittymaki, Alex Auld, Tim Thomas, Thomas Vokoun, Niklas Backstrom, Roberto Loungo, Steve Mason, Martin Brodeur, Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller, Cam Ward, Martin Biron, Kari Lehtonen, Marc-Andre Fleury, and not to mention Nabokov's own backup Brian Boucher, and the aforementioend Jonas Hiller.

In total, that is 23 goaltenders that posted a better save percentage than Nabokov during the regular season, including eight goaltenders who actually deserve to be referred to as "elite." Plus the other solid goaltenders in that group and their backups, who all played a decent amount of games, therefore an "elite" starting goaltender should still have a better save percentage despite playing more games.

Simply put, most goalies in the NHL block a larger portion of the shots they face than does Nabokov. I mean 23 goalies!!?!??

That is staggering.

I hate to say it, but for being the faces of the franchise and the supposed "leaders" of the team, Thornton and Nabokov seem a lot more like posers.