Coming off a 3-1-2 six game home-stand to begin the month, the San Jose Sharks hit the road on Monday for a short two-game, back-to-back road trip which started in Chicago and ended Tuesday in Dallas.
And depending on one’s go-to source for information, it might sound as if the previously streaking Sharks (17-2-1 record from Jan. 15 through Mar. 3) were on a major cool off.
In the last four games of that six game homestand, the Sharks went just 1-1-2 and on Monday the Sharks dropped a 6-3 contest to the Blackhawks. Understandably, allowing five second period goals against didn’t sit well with the Sharks players, and according to those covering team teal on the road, nobody involved with the team was willing to discuss any positives from the loss.
That said, besides the abysmal middle frame, the 6-3 loss did not appear to be nearly as lopsided as that type of score can often suggest. San Jose carried the offensive play at numerous points throughout, out-scored Chicago 2-1 in the first and drew even in the third while out-shooting the Blackhawks 16-6 during the final 20 minutes.
For example, one could make a convincing argument that the Sharks more vastly out-played the league leading Vancouver Canucks—in a 5-4 shootout loss back on Mar. 10–than the Blackhawks out-played the Sharks in their 6-3 win on Monday.
But with the Western Conference standings continuing to be air tight, the Sharks could ill afford to come up empty on the short trip. Going into Tuesday’s bout with the rival Stars, the Sharks sat only four points up on the Stars in the race for the Pacific division.
Just continuing to have spurts of strong play and not getting back to consistent results could quickly see the team spiral not just out of a home-ice position but out of a playoff spot completely. But with a 6-3 victory of their own over the Stars, San Jose came away with their much-needed split on the road, increasing their point total to 88 and gap over the eighth seeded Calgary Flames to seven points.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, the Sharks were able to squeak out a victory.
Again, the 6-3 final doesn’t always suggest a thorough domination. This time around the Sharks added two-empty net, short-handed goals in the final minute and change to seal the win.
Thornton scored twice, the first of which got the Sharks back in the game shortly after falling behind 2-0 in the middle stanza. The Sharks’ captain deflected a shot from defenseman Dan Boyle to cut the Dallas lead to 2-1 at the 6:43 mark. And his second–the first of the empty netters–came when he intercepted a pass right inside his own blue-line before spinning around and shooting it the length of the ice.
However, the most impressive performance of the night came from Pavelski who chipped in a career high four assists.
“The Big Pavelski” (a nick-name coined by Sharks fans after an impressive playoff run last season) assisted on Heatley’s 5-on-3 power-play goal that tied the score in the second before assisting on third period goals by Ryane Clowe and Torrey Mitchell. For good measure, the fourth assist came on Heatley’s empty net tally in the third. Add in his two points against Chicago, and Pavelski finished the two game roadie with six total points, upping his season total to 52.
Quietly, Pavelski is having a career year with 52 points in 63 games or a .82 points per game rate. His previous career high point per game rate during the 2008-09 season was .73. His goal totals may be down–just 14 thus far this year compared to the 25 scored in each of the past two seasons–but the play-maker continues to improve year after year. His defensive zone awareness, combined with a wicked shot and extremely high hockey IQ make the not-so fleet of foot Pavelski one of the more underrated players in the NHL.
If the Sharks are to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history this season, no doubt Pavelski will be a huge contributor. As for now, Pavelski’s strong play recently has helped San Jose get back on track in their quest for a fourth straight Pacific division crown.