Shawn Thornton playing balanced game

For the first time in three years, Shawn Thornton is spending Christmas with his parents, who live in his native Ontario.

For the Boston Bruins forward, that is the best Christmas present he has gotten in recent memory.

"You don't get to see family much [during the season], and obviously at the holidays, it's tough, so this is really special this year and I'm pretty excited," Thornton told ESPNBoston.com.

His parents arrived at Logan Airport on Wednesday night and they were on hand Thursday night when Thornton gave them, his teammates and 17,565 fans at TD Garden an early Christmas present: He dropped the gloves two seconds into the game against the Atlanta Thrashers to set the tone, and then scored two goals to lead the Bruins to a 4-1 win. Those two goals gave him a career-high seven lamplighters this season.

Now the player known more for his fists of fury is proving that he's not simply an enforcer.

"It's early but, obviously, I wanted to score more than I did last year; last year was a bad year," Thornton said of his one goal in 74 games during the 2009-10 season. "I had a lot of chances, though, they just didn't go in. So far this year, they're going in, but like I said, it's early still. But I'll continue riding it as long as I can."

While many have put Thornton under the "tough guy" category, his teammates and coaches have always seen more in the 6-foot-2, 217-pound winger since his arrival in Boston prior to the 2007-08 season. They let him know it on a consistent basis, and now Thornton is finally starting to apply what they've told him.

"I think my teammates and even the coaches and management do a very good job of making me aware that I'm not just a one-dimensional player," Thornton said. "I mean, you look at the minutes I'm playing -- in between nine or 10 sometimes -- and I don't think there's a lot of guys that are just fighting that are playing that many minutes.

"My linemates have always spoke highly of me, and think I'm a lot better than I get credit for. ... If people put me in a certain category, then so be it. It puts food on the table, so I'm OK with that. My team recognizes that I can do more than just fight and that's justification enough for me. I don't need to read about it."

Thornton has no problem skating around at practice as if he were a goal-scoring sniper, and he even tries to show off some fancy stickhandling. Now he's trying that in games, and it's working.

"They give me crap about not doing it enough," Thornton said of his teammates' comments on his skills. "They see me do it enough in practice and don't understand why I don't do it in games. They're happy I am and that the pucks are going in."

Thornton credits new linemates Gregory Campbell, Brad Marchand and sometimes Daniel Paille for helping him add more to his game. He has enjoyed the chemistry they have formed as a useful "energy" line for coach Claude Julien.

"Our line is always trying to create chances," Thornton said. "We're always going to try and score if the chances are there, but we know our job."

Marchand is thrilled that he has been able to play with and learn from a veteran leader such as Thornton. The rookie is happy to see his friend and linemate finally get recognition for something other than dropping the gloves.

"I love playing with Thorty, and I don't think people give him enough credit for how much skill he has," Marchand said. "I think last year maybe he wasn't trying to take shots or create scoring chances as much, but now he has confidence and you see it out there on the ice. He's making a lot of great plays and things are going well for him."

Marchand is following in Thornton's footsteps as far as agitating the opponents and drawing them into penalties. He's learning from Thornton how to walk the line of being a pest to opponents.

"I have talked to him, but I can just watch him and learn even more because he does it, too -- going out there chirping and getting under their skin," Marchand said. "He knows when to do it and when not to, and he's a good guy to follow. When he does [pester], maybe I'll chime in, too, and then if he gives me the look or something, I'll know when to stop. But it's fun because he will tell me to go out and do what I want but he's there to let me know if I go over the line.

"He's a great guy, too, and is always there for you. He lets me know that he has my back, and it makes it a lot easier going out there and knowing I have him around."

Campbell has been impressed with Thornton's all-around game.

"It's been a nice mix with the three of us, and we've found some chemistry along the way and he brings an element to our line," Campbell said. "He's physical; he's good along the wall and is a winger that creates a lot for your line. If you're getting those pucks out and creating those plays, it creates a good transition. He's also got pretty good hands and an uncanny nose for the net."

So as Thornton entertains his parents on this 2010 Christmas, there is plenty for him and his teammates to look forward to in 2011.

"I'm happy and I've always been happy here in Boston, but yeah, it's been fun showing that I can help in more ways than maybe what most people think I can," Thornton said. "But I think no matter what I'm doing, I just want to be helping this team bring a championship here. That's our goal."

James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.