Iíll admit I didnít know much about Joe Thorntonís playing style before he was traded to the San Jose Sharks, though the first time you see him carrying the puck, itís obvious that he doesnít play like your typical dangerous scorer. I grew up watching Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne, who at various times both had great moves and great speed. Today, you can see that the opposing teamís defense is on edge every time Alexander Ovechkin or Ilya Kovalchuk touch the puck.
Thornton, though? He spends most of his time skating slowly, fighting for the puck behind the opposing teamís net, out-muscling guys along the boards, pushing defensemen out of the way as he carries the puck between them. Heís a finesse player, no doubt, but he plays a strength game, and it can at times look almost effortless. Unfortunately, with all that puck possession comes a lot of giveaways. Thornton, because he skates slowly, is never in position to recover his giveaways, which leads to a lot of plays where an opposing playerís streaking down the ice, while Thornton is stuck in the offensive zone.
At least it seems that way to many observers, and Iíve been frequently asked to figure out how many goals Joe Thorntonís giveaways cost the Sharks. Overall, official scorers assessed the Sharks 681 even-strength giveaways during the 2008-09 season. This charts shows the number of giveaways that resulted in various events in the 15 seconds following the giveaway:
Total 681 -
Opponent Goal 22 3.2%
Opponent Shot 116 17.0%
Opponent Missed Net 61 9.0%
S.J. Blocked Shot 64 9.4%
S.J. Penalty 18 2.6%
Not surprisingly, your opponentís offense increases substantially immediately following a giveaway. The Sharks gave up goals at a rate of almost eight per 60 minutes after giving the puck away, more than three times the average NHL scoring rate. In contrast, over the entire season, the Sharks scored only two goals in the 15 seconds following a giveaway.
So, what about Thornton himself? Hereís his personal table in the 15 seconds following his giveaways:
Opponent Goal 1
Opponent Shot 11
Opponent Missed Net 4
S.J. Blocked Shot 3
S.J. Penalty 2
Only once all season did an even-strength Joe Thornton giveaway lead to a goal less than 30 seconds later, on February 5 against Carolina. However, watching the game highlights, Thorntonís giveaway had little to do with the goal, which was scored after Patrick Marleau tried to pass the puck across the slot in his own end and it was stolen by Jacob Petruzalek, who passed to Sergei Samsonov for the score. So overall, as ugly as they looked, Thorntonís giveaways did not directly lead to a single even-strength goal all season.
Gabriel Desjardins is a contributor to Puck Prospectus and runs the statistical hockey site Behindthenet.ca