SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Whenever Wayne and Joe Thornton talk hockey, the advice from father to son is always the same.
Shoot the puck.
"Pretty much before every game I have to remind him," Wayne Thornton said. "But he doesn't shoot enough. He never has."
Joe Thornton, the Sharks captain, continues to be one of the NHL's preeminent passers. At the same time, he can be unselfish to a fault. San Jose coach Todd McLellan long has pressed Thornton to be more aggressive about challenging goaltenders himself.
"Some players are shooters and some players are passers," Thornton countered, "and I guess I'm just a passer at heart. I enjoy setting guys up."
But maybe his father's words had greater impact when they were delivered in person last week as Wayne Thornton took part in the annual dads' trip.
Over the last four games, his son has taken 18 shots, and the result has been three goals to go along with five assists. That has helped the Sharks (29-16-6) break out of their offensive doldrums with 17 goals.
So, is this the start of a trend?
"I doubt it," Wayne Thornton said, laughing. "Joe will play three games and have two shots on net. The goalies know that if he's going down on a two-on-one, they need to watch the other guy because Joe's not going to shoot. It would be better if he would just change it up a little bit."
Make no mistake: Thornton is the engine that drives the Sharks offense. He leads the team with 46 points, and his 35 assists were tied for sixth-best in the NHL.
Thornton, 32, has an uncanny ability to wait until just the right moment when a teammate finds a patch of open ice and deliver the puck with a magician's sleight of hand. He's a key reason why San Jose leads the league in shots on goals with 34.8 a game.
He also has drawn praise for becoming a more complete, three-zone player. A top-10 ranking in take-aways are a testament to his greater attention to defense.
But there's still that curious reluctance by Thornton to shoot.
Sharks defenseman Brent Burns noted last Saturday after a 5-3 loss to Phoenix, where the Coyotes scored two goals on ricochets, that NHL players now are taught to fire pucks at the net and hope something good happens.
And it's why McLellan has tried to push Thornton out of his pass-first comfort zone.
"If I had that answer, then we'd be able to solve it," McLellan said when asked about Thornton's hesitancy. "Only he can answer that. One of the tasks that we're working on is his shooting and net presence. There is a reward to shooting the puck, and we always remind him of that."
Still, Thornton has been a consistent scorer throughout his NHL career, notching at least 20 goals in 11 consecutive seasons.
But goals have never been his primary focus. During a recent three-game trip to Canada, Thornton had only one shot on net. Even with his current shooting binge, he ranks just seventh among the Sharks with 100 shots on the season.
Thornton said he's simply playing to his, and the team's, strengths. Ever since he arrived in San Jose in 2005, he has been surrounded by strong finishers, including former Shark Jonathan Cheechoo, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski.
But a bigger factor is that he's always has seen himself as a playmaker--much the way Santa Clara product and fellow Canadian Steve Nash, who leads the NBA in assists at age 38, is on the basketball court.
"Steve shoots not as much as LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, but he's still so effective," Thornton said.
Nevertheless, dad has been encouraging Thornton to take on a greater share of the scoring because the Sharks' forward corps has been hampered by injuries--especially to winger Marty Havlat. He would like to see his 6-foot-4, 235-pound son bully his way around the net more.
"I always tell him, 'You're a big guy, do a wraparound,' " Wayne Thornton said last weekend before returning home to St. Thomas, Ontario.
Thornton said he has been hearing that for years. He related how the two spend a lot of time on the phone, just chatting about hockey strategy.
"He watches so many games, and his point always has been the more shots you get, the better chance you have for one to go in," Thornton said. "And he likes Pavs and Patty going to the net and getting some rebounds."
But Thornton added: "Then I'll have a nice pass and he's like: 'Oh, good passing there.' "