SAN JOSE – Joe Pavelski’s value to the San Jose Sharks is plainly evident. The 29-year-old center is fourth on the team in scoring with 28 points, and leads the Sharks with 14 power play points.
Among forwards, only Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau are averaging more ice time per game than Pavelski’s 19 minutes and six seconds, which includes valuable time on both the power play and the penalty kill.
Lately, though, Pavelski has been in the spotlight when it comes to the Sharks’ struggles. The third line center took some shifts on the fourth line last Thursday in a 5-1 loss to the Penguins, when Todd McLellan indicated he wasn’t pleased with Pavelski showing some frustration after a missed opportunity.
Pavelski was seemingly playing his best hockey early, on a line with Tommy Wingels and Matt Nieto, which was together for the first month of the regular season until Wingels was found to be the best replacement for an injured Brent Burns on the Joe Thornton line.
At the time the Pavelski-Wingels-Nieto trio was broken up 16 games into the season on Nov. 7, Pavelski was the team leader with 17 points, including 10 even-strength points.
Between Nov. 10 and Dec. 8, though, Pavelski managed just three even-strength points (2g, 1a) in a span of 14 games. Perhaps that’s why he seemed so jubilant to score on the rebound of a Dan Boyle shot on Tuesday against the New York Islanders, a second period marker that gave the Sharks a 2-0 lead at the time.
“It always feels good to score. It’s been a little while,” Pavelski said after the game. “You’ve got to contribute. Last game, this game, it’s kind of been in their end for most of it. You’ve got to find ways to score, and it happened.”
Tuesday was the second straight game that Pavelski played in a top-six role, on a line with Couture and Marleau. It’s been the Sharks’ best line over that span, although San Jose dropped a 3-1 decision in Minnesota on Sunday and lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Islanders.
“He’s easy to play with,” Couture said of Pavelski. “I think all three of us are pretty interchangeable. Obviously, all three of us have played center in the past, and in our own end, it helps. I think we’re all creative players. We’ve had a bunch of chances lately, we’ve just got to start scoring.”
Pavelski said: “You get a chance to play up there, you want to perform and play well.”
Still, the Sharks would almost certainly like to get Pavelski back into his role as the third line center sooner than later, where he can take advantage of lesser matchups while the Couture and Thornton lines draw the tougher assignments.
Now that Burns is healthy, and Nieto has been recalled from the minors, that group could potentially be reunited. That would sit fine with Pavelski, it seems.
“We had a good thing, obviously. It was early in the season, everyone is fresh, and you’re trying to get off to a good start. We were hungry, and playing well,” Pavelski said. “You get an injury here or there, things get bounced around, you lose a game…
“Maybe it will end up back there at some point, we’ll see, but we have to find a way to get a win here.”
In the meantime, Pavelski will do what he can on a line that features three of the Sharks most skilled players.
“Third line or first line, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “You’re trying to score, you’re trying to defend, [and] you want to be on the attack for most of the night.”