Redwood Times (http://www.redwoodtimes.com)

Three takeaways: Sharks take exception to Caps' ‘premeditated' fight with Thornton


By Paul Gackle, Bay Area News Group

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

WASHINGTON — What started as a promising road trip wound up being “pretty average” in the words of Sharks captain Joe Pavelski.
After winning the first two games of their East Coast trip, the Sharks dropped back-to-back games to the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals, finishing with a 2-2 record.
Here’s what we learned as the Sharks lost a chippy 4-1 game to the Capitals Monday night.
1. The Sharks take exception to the Capitals decision to fight Joe Thornton.
Pete DeBoer let the Capitals bench know how he felt about their decision to engage Thornton in a fight early in the third period and he didn’t hold back when he spoke with reporters after the game.
DeBoer took issue with the fact that Tom Wilson initiated a fight with Thornton at 2:14 of the third in response to a hit that he put on T.J. Oshie with 3:27 left in the second, knocking him out of the game.
“If someone were to grab Joe in the heat of the moment after the play because they thought a liberty was taken, then I’ve got no problem with that,” the Sharks coach said. “But to go into the dressing room, think about it, come out in the first shift and do that premeditated crap is just garbage.”
Thornton turned and hit Oshie with his backside as the Capitals forward was falling to the ice after making contact with Logan Couture.
By the time that Thornton hit Oshie, the Capitals forward was down on the ice, resulting in a hip-to-head collision into the glass. Oshie spent a couple minutes on the ice before leaving the game with an “upper-body” injury.
The referees didn’t call a penalty on the play.
“He was just falling a little bit. It’s not like I ran him or anything,” Thornton said. “I bumped him and it felt like my hip hit him in the head. Just unfortunate what happened.
“You don’t want to see anyone hurt, obviously. It’s just too bad. Hopefully, he gets back quick.”
2. Thornton got the ‘whole bench going’ by sticking up for himself.  
Thornton is a rare breed.
He’s among the NHL’s top-20 scorers of all time and one of the best playmakers the league has ever known, ranking 12th in assists.
Nevertheless, when the Capitals decided to come after him, he didn’t skate away and leave matters in the hands of tough guy Brenden Dillon. Instead, he dropped the gloves and went toe-to-toe with Wilson, who entered the game with 55 career fights, according to hockeyfights.com.
“It’s no big deal,” Thornton said. “I can take care of myself. It’s never been an issue with me.
“I’m a big boy.”
The fight was Thornton’s first since he dropped the gloves with Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars on Feb. 23, 2013.
Thornton’s willingness to stick up for himself left an impression on the team, which featured seven players who skated with the AHL Barracuda last year. Kevin Labanc said it got the “whole bench going.”
After the fight, Timo Meier, who scored the Sharks lone goal, engaged in fisticuffs with Brooks Orpik and Barclay Goodrow received a fighting major for dropping the gloves with Alex Chiasson. The Sharks received a total of 37 penalty minutes in the third, including Dillon’s game misconduct penalty for slashing, which will likely result in a fine.
“He’s probably the most respected guy in that room. All the guys look up to him,” said Meier, referring to Thornton. “If he goes out there and shows that he’s willing to pay the price and sacrifice his body, I think it’s great for us to see.
“We want to be like him.”
3. Labanc needs another trip to the minor leagues.
The Sharks reassigned to Labanc to the AHL Barracuda for a pair of games on Nov. 5 to give him a chance to regain his confidence.
It didn’t work.
Labanc is riding a 17-game goalless drought after opening the season with three goals in four games. He’s picked up just one point in the eight games since he rejoined the Sharks on Nov. 12.
With Joonas Donskoi, Mikkel Boedker and Melker Karlsson sidelined by injuries, Labanc received a golden opportunity to break out of his slump Monday, skating on Logan Couture’s right wing.
Instead, he failed to capitalize on several quality-scoring chances, and his pass into Brent Burns’ skates in the middle of the second led to Alexander Ovechkin’s breakaway goal, giving the Capitals a 2-0 lead.
Labanc is hesitating to shoot the puck, suggesting that his confidence is waning. He had a golden opportunity to use his shot, which is among the best on the team, during a two-on-one chance late in the second. Instead, he waited and then tried to pass, allowing the defender to break up the play.
When Donskoi, Boedker or Karlsson returns, it might be a good idea to send Labanc back to the Barracuda where he can regain the mojo that he displayed early in the season after a strong training camp.