The Sharks' top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi has combined for one measly assist over the first two games against Detroit. A few years ago, if that happened in a playoff series, the sky would be falling. Lines would be shuffled, fans in a furor, offseason demolition plans in the making. That's not a guess. It might as well be a quote from the story that ran after San Jose's first two playoff games in 2009. After combining for 222 points during the team's Presidents' Trophy regular season, the three fell flat in the first two games of the first round against the Ducks. One assist combined. Two losses, well on the way to four. The more things stay the same, the more they change. Lack of offense up top, it turns out, is just what is needed against the Red Wings this season. The Sharks are up 2-0 in the second-round series, with today's Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena, largely because of the defensive job Thornton's line did in the first two games against the Wings' top line, made up of superstars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and all-world goalie-screener Tomas Holmstrom. Thornton's recalibration from a hundred-point scorer into a defensive forward was hyped throughout the season - by coaches, teammates and the media - but it's the type of shift that doesn't become real until it's tested by the best in the game. With Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby out, Datsyuk is on the short list of players who qualify. He put up two goals, six points and 10 takeaways in a first-round sweep of Phoenix. He has none, two and three in two games against the Sharks. It's not as if Datsyuk is having a bad series. He looks like he's at the top of his game, a treat to watch every time he touches the puck - showing all of the vision and stick-handling ability that make him one of the greats. But Thornton's ability to control the puck on offense - limiting Datsyuk's top weapon, the takeaway - and help prevent sustained pressure going the other way has meant that Datsyuk hasn't had the puck too often.
Joe Thornton's line holds Red Wings stars in check
San Francisco Chronicle | May 4