Mike Fisher, Dustin Brown have different theories on how to shut down Joe Thornton's sizzling line

ByPierre LeBrun ESPN logo
Saturday, May 21, 2016

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Certain players on the Nashville Predators and Los Angeles Kings nod their heads as they watch Joe Thornton's top line on the San Jose Sharks mash their way through the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference finals.

As in, we've seen that movie before.

"That line is feeling it," Predators center Mike Fisher said over the phone Friday.

The Blues need to find a way to mitigate the damage from Thornton's line as they attempt to even their series with the Sharks, Game 4 on tap here Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET).

"The way that Thornton can slow the play down, he does it so unbelievable," added Fisher, who was matched up a lot against Thornton's line in the second round. "He's a great playmaker. [Joe] Pavelskiis so good at finding space in andaround the net. He's underrated at how good he is. They just kind of work off each other so well, they seem to know where the other guy is. And then[Tomas] Hertldoes his thing on that line, too. He's having a goodseries now, I think better than when he played against us."

In fact, Fisher's line had success at times in that seven-game, second-round series compared to how the Kings struggled to contain the Sharks' top line, and certainly when you look at the Blues' struggles three games into this series.

"Our D does such a good job too, of helping out our offense and playing good D," Fisher said. "It takes all five against that line and I think our D helps out a lot."

No question Preds blueliners Shea Weber and Roman Josi had good moments in the middle of that series against Thornton's line but in the end, especially in Game 7, the Sharks' top line prevailed. Just as it did against the Kings' top defensive players in Round 1.

"It really starts with Thornton, quite honestly, for me," Kings captain Dustin Brown said over the phone Friday. "He's just so big and so skilled. It's really hard to get the puck from him. You put Pavelski, who's obviously a really good goal scorer, with him and then Hertl, who's another big body, but everything goes through Thornton. I've been watching the games lately and he's just controlling the game and giving those guys open ice to work with. I've played against him for the last 10 years or whatever since he's been in San Jose. When you play him five, six, eight teams a year, you kind of understand it. A big part of that line is just his ability to control the ice and the puck at the same time."

So then, I asked Brown and Fisher, what should the Blues do as they grasp for answers while trying to limit the time the Thornton line spends in their zone?

"Honestly, I don't know if there's any real secret other than trying to play them as physical as you can and not give them space," Fisher said. "Thornton is so big and strong. Really, the best way to do it is to just spend as much time as you can in their zone and make them play D. If anything, if they had a weakness it would be D, but once they get into your zone, especially late in our series, their cycling game is so good. Once they get in there, it's just tough to get it out and get it going. We had some success during the series because a lot of times we were playing in their zone. We were trying to get them to play as much D as possible. But obviously in the end there are things we could have done better because we didn't beat them."

Brown said trying to get physical is a tricky proposition with Thornton.

"It's one of those things if you go right at him, he'll put it right behind you, and that's where Pavelski is really good finding the ice in behind the defender," Brown said. "So you got a guy going at Thornton, Pavelski is one of the better players at finding the ice in behind the defender going at Thornton. That's pretty hard to cover. And Hertl is down low and around the net, he's a big strong guy. So it's the combination."

A combination of skill, strength and chemistry is creating the best line in the NHL.

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