SAN JOSE – Call him Captain Clutch.
Joe Pavelski scored a late third period goal on Saturday afternoon, breaking a 3-3 tie and extending the Sharks’ point-streak to eight games (7-0-1) in a 4-3 defeat of Minnesota.
When the Sharks require a goal, more often than not it’s No. 8 finding a way to get it done. Of his team-leading 23 scores, more than half of them have come in the third period (12). His eight game-winning goals leads the league.
After the game Pavelski played off his late-game success as a coincidence, but coach Pete DeBoer was having none of it.
"Great players make great plays at the right time, and he's one of those guys,” DeBoer said. “He thrives in those moments. He wants to be out there in those moments. That's not an accident that happens to guys like that."
The game-winning goal on Saturday isn’t going to end up on any individual highlight reels, coming on a flickering shot from the high slot that had eyes through traffic, but Pavelski’s markers rarely are.
If there were an NHL version of urban dictionary, Pavelski’s goatee’d mug would accompany the definition of "dirty goal."
“It definitely wasn’t going to beat [Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper] with its speed,” Pavelski said of the goal with 1:24 to go. “Good feeling to see that one go in.”
It’s those types of goals, like getting shots off through a maze of bodies, that are hard to create on a regular basis. Pavelski, among the NHL’s best players at deflecting in shots with his stick and finding loose pucks around the crease, is willing to do the work.
“That’s our leader, our captain, our go-to guy, and he’s been there all year scoring big time,” Joel Ward said. “Pretty impressive to watch for a new guy like myself, just to see a guy compete hard in both ends of the ice. He plays all facets of the game, really strong from his own end, through the neutral zone, and you can see his offensive awareness.”
Saturday’s win was hardly a one-man effort, of course. Ward continued his productive first season in teal with a goal and an assist in the second period, and the Sharks continued to get production from depth guys like Tomas Hertl (8 points in eight games) and Joonas Donskoi (7 points in eight games), who each found the back of the net.
Ward’s slick pass through the slot to Donskoi on a second-period power play tied the game at 2-2, and the veteran forward got a goal of his own later in the frame when he went to the front of the net after a failed odd-man rush.
“Everybody here wants to contribute to win hockey games, and I set high goals for myself,” said Ward, who now has 14 goals and 30 points. “I just try to come have fun, work hard as best I can and try to use my ability as best I can.”
DeBoer said: "Ward-O, for me, the goals are a bonus. It's the intangibles he brings everywhere else. When you take faceoffs and kill penalties and play on the power play, wins a lot of board battles. He's a big body. The goals are a bonus.”
DeBoer was particularly impressed with Donskoi, who not only scored but set up Logan Couture with a fancy backhanded pass from behind the net that Couture couldn’t quite squeeze through Kuemper in the third period.
"I thought he was outstanding tonight, maybe one of the best players on the ice on either team,” DeBoer said. “He's moving his feet, he's attacking, he's playing with confidence. I thought he was great."
The Sharks are finally finding their game at home, improving to 4-0-1 in their last five at SAP Center. It’s probably the perfect time for them to welcome in the Kings on Sunday in the second half of a rare back-to-back in their own building.
“We’ve got a reputation of playing pretty well in this building, and we haven’t played that well this year,” Couture said. “It’s nice to start winning again. We’re on a nice little streak right now. Enjoy this one today, and we’ve got a big test tomorrow.”
DeBoer said: “The late goal with a minute-and-a-half left, that was going against us [at home] a month or two ago. All that stuff evens out.”
It does when Pavelski’s around, anyway.