BOSTON -- The rap against Joe Thornton as captain of the Boston Bruins was that he could be too laid-back. He didn't show enough intensity. His internal fire didn't burn bright enough, or hot enough.
More than five years after his trade to the Sharks, and with Thornton now wearing the "C" on a Teal jersey, that perception remains. But Thornton, and those around him, say reality is much different from the image.
Easygoing Jumbo Joe is perfectly capable of screaming and throwing gear around.
"Oh yeah," Thornton said. "But understand something: We don't show you guys anything. You guys only see the top of the iceberg. I keep it that way on purpose."
In his view, the media -- and by extension, the public -- doesn't need to see what goes on behind closed doors.
"It's our room, and it should stay that way," said Thornton, who will be making his third visit to the city he called home for eight seasons when the Sharks face the Bruins in a Saturday matinee.
The discussion of Thornton's passion has become topic fodder again because the Sharks (27-19-6) have been maddeningly inconsistent in his first season as team captain. Despite their current 6-0-1 hot streak, the Sharks still are 16 points off last year's pace at the 52-game mark and find themselves fighting for a playoff berth.
Thornton, who describes himself as a glass-half-full guy, presents himself in public as a player who takes even the most painful losses in stride. That can result in a disconnect with fans, who have had no problem expressing their frustrations during this roller-coaster season.
But teammates say you have to look beyond the snippets from postgame interviews to see the real Thornton.
"Anyone who watches Joe play knows that, sure, he's an easygoing guy, but he has a temper," defenseman Douglas Murray said. "You can see him when he gets mad out there. It's pretty obvious.
"He certainly doesn't have the short fuse and walk around and ream guys out all the time. But there's been plenty of opportunities to yell this season, and he's done that."
Thornton, the Sharks' leading scorer with 46 points, makes no apologies for his personality.
"I am an upbeat guy," he said. "That's just the way my DNA is."
But there are exceptions. When the Sharks blew a third-period lead in a 5-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 29, the captain fumed over his team's soft play in front of its own net.
"Unacceptable," Thornton said before adding an uncharacteristic zinger: "Ryane Clowe would love to play in front of our net right now. It's a piece of cake."
Not exactly rage, but it was a rare show of public directness.
"You always have the same fire and passion," Thornton said. "But you can't be showing that every day or after every loss. You have to pick your spots."
Thornton took over as captain after Rob Blake retired. While Blake carried himself as an elder statesman, Thornton is a much more affable presence, cracking jokes and starting loud conversations among teammates.
But Blake always said that a hockey captain does his real work away from prying eyes. And Sharks coach Todd McLellan describes Thornton as a much different person when he's in front of the team.
"My kids absolutely love this guy," McLellan said. "They love being around him. He's a happy guy. But close the doors, put him in the locker room and he has all the traits of what a captain needs to have. He's spoken his mind. He has taken it on the chin from other players as well. He does what he's supposed to do."
Even before Thornton was named the Sharks' captain on the season-opening trip to Sweden, he talked about how he would approach the job differently than when he was with the Bruins. Boston had named him captain at age 23 -- subscribing to the theory that your best player should be the captain. Now, at age 31, a more confident Thornton is less reluctant to speak his mind -- in the locker room.
"Joe does on the outside look like he's a jolly, happy guy all the time," center Scott Nichol said. "But you know what? I think this year he's been very outspoken and puts a lot of peer pressure on guys. I think that's what we need."
Mary Thornton, the captain's mother who is in Boston for Saturday's game, says that what you see publicly from her son isn't always what you get.
"He's got a good outlook," she said. "He's not a negative person. But you don't have to let everybody know what you think. Joe's like a poker player. You don't have to show your cards."
Maybe, but like all captains, Thornton ultimately will be judged on whether he has a winning hand.
Sharks (27-19-6, 60 points) at Boston (30-15-7, 67), 10 a.m., CSNCA