MINNEAPOLIS – After last Saturday’s decisive 7-2 loss to St. Louis, the immediate thought was that the Sharks were disoriented without Joe Thornton, and the team would continue to struggle mightily without its top center in the lineup.
Two wins later, that notion has dissipated a bit. Sure, the Jets are an injury-ravaged club, and the Wild are quickly fading from playoff contention, but the Sharks have found a way to accumulate four of a possible six points without one of their key cogs.
Leading the way have been the team’s so-called catalysts, to borrow a term from coach Todd McLellan.
Joe Pavelski has been a monster, particularly in the win over the Wild, in which he was the Sharks’ most effective forward. The 30-year-old has five points in three games without Thornton, including a key third period goal against Minnesota, and an equally important faceoff win that led to Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s late heroics against the Jets.
Vlasic has been his regular steady defensive self, while unexpectedly potting a pair of game-winning goals. Tommy Wingels broke out of his scoring slump with the third period go-ahead goal against the Wild, while Logan Couture has also been productive, with three assists in the last two games.
After the 4-3 overtime win over the Wild on Tuesday, though, McLellan didn’t want to focus on a small contingent of players on the active roster.
“We’ve got to get it done as a team. Jumbo is a huge part of our group, but there’s no guarantee he stays healthy enough all year, or in playoffs if we’re lucky enough to get to that spot,” McLellan said.
“Guys have to step up. We’ve found ways. The first night we were a little bit lost, that was pretty evident. But the last couple nights we’ve found ways, so it’s encouraging.”
Pavelski didn’t attribute the dismantling at the hands of the Blues to the departure of Thornton. In fact, he expected the Sharks to be even more attentive without the man who was their leading scorer at the time.
“If there was going to be any kind of effort change, I would have thought it was the first game and guys would be alert,” Pavelski said.
“It didn’t happen for us. I don’t think it was because of a lack of preparation or thought, but obviously there was something missing in that area that needed to be cleaned up. It’s a long season. There’s ups-and-downs, but you can’t have those lows that we had the other night.”
Winning teams have similar traits. One is the ability to put a bad loss quickly in the rear view mirror. Another is overcoming the loss of key players for various reasons.
This week the Sharks are doing both, and they’ll get a chance to avenge their loss to the Blues at Scottrade Center on Thursday night. Maybe Thornton will return from his upper body injury, or maybe he won’t. That may not be known until pregame warm-ups.
Either way, the last two wins suggest the Sharks should be a poised bunch. If Thornton returns, he’ll be a welcome addition, especially on the struggling power play. If he needs more time to recover, though, there’s no reason to believe the Blues will have it so easy again.