Sharks' Thornton, Marleau still going strong

BY AP • December 15, 2016

OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau broke into the NHL nearly 20 years ago. The 37-year-olds are having too much fun with the San Jose Sharks to think up hanging up their skates.

''I feel great,'' Marleau said. ''(I'm) having fun out there so I'll keep going.''

Thornton logged more than 25 minutes Wednesday night in Ottawa, while Marleau played 22 minutes in the Sharks' 4-3 victory over the Senators, their second shootout win in two nights.

San Jose holds the puck more often than not when Thornton and Marleau take the ice. Thornton ranks second on the team in puck possession (55 percent), with Marleau just a touch back in third (54 percent).

''I think both of us love the game and we still feel we can play the game at a high, high level and want to contribute each and every night,'' said Marleau, born two months after Thornton in 1979.

Thornton and Marleau are among the most productive players of the last decades, two stunning marvels of fitness who rarely miss a game. Ten players in the NHL this season weren't even born when Thornton and Marleau were drafted in 1997.

Marleau has missed only 31 games over more than 18 seasons since he was drafted second overall behind Thornton in 1997. He ranks first in games played among all NHL players during that stretch (1,472), last sitting out a game during the 2008-09 season.

Thornton isn't far behind. He has played in 95 percent of possible games for the Boston Bruins and Sharks, missing a mere nine games since the start of the 2006-07 season.

Marleau credits his longevity to adjustments in training, eating, stretching and exercise as well as a new approach to rest. The Sharks annually face some of the league's most arduous travel and coach Pete DeBoer has made it a priority to ensure that his players, especially the old guys, get to recover.

''I think there wasn't too much emphasis on rest and recovery right when we first came into the league,'' Marleau said. ''Now you see a lot more teams talking about it and taking a lot more optional skates, especially with a west coast team that travels as much as we do. A lot of practices are video, going over video and things like that.''

Thornton is tops in points (1,360) and assists (981) since joining the league. The underrated Marleau ranks fifth in points (1,047) during that same 19-year span and also fifth in goals (488). He'll likely become the 45th player in NHL history to reach 500 goals at some point this season.

Both endure in different ways. Never the swiftest on skates, Thornton employs superb passing, vision, and an undervalued ability to protect the puck. Marleau has long been a terrific skater with persistence and a scorer's touch.

''But at the end of the day I think their hockey sense stands alone,'' Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. ''They know how to work their way around the rink, make plays, win battles, those types of things, put themselves in good positions and that's allowed for good careers. There's no secret, you need a little luck along the way, but those guys have earned everything they've got.''

Still, Thornton and Marleau are certainly not the players they once were.

Thornton is on pace for a 30-point dropoff from last season's 82-point campaign and his lowest point total in a full season since he was a teenager in Boston. He hasn't scored in 17 straight games after finishing with 19 goals last season.

Marleau is only slightly off-pace for his 14th 20-goal season, but he's also on track for a career-low 31 points.

And yet the Sharks are undeniably a better team when either player is on the ice. San Jose generates the lion's share of scoring chances when Thornton and Marleau are out there at even-strength.

Both remain weapons on the power play, too.

Both are also unrestricted free agents with uncertain futures at season's end. Asked last March about playing as long as 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr, Thornton responded: ''If I feel good I'd love to play that long, but right now it's hard to say if I could.''

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