SAN JOSE – Lost a bit in the all of the talk of the Sharks’ forward group being decimated by injuries, is that the top guys that are still healthy can carry the team on any given night.
Thursday against Detroit is a prime example, as Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, in particular, paced San Jose’s 4-1 win over the Red Wings. Along with Brent Burns, the top line thoroughly outplayed the opposition’s top line of Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson and Gustav Nyquist (later replaced by Justin Abdelkader).
Pavelski’s two-goal performance stood out. The 29-year-old potted a pair of goals, leads the team with 21, and nearly had his first career hat trick after 22 multiple-goal efforts without a third. His one-timer from the circle in the game’s final minute sailed high, despite some room to shoot.
"We’re going to have to see the video. Guys say it was [close],” Pavelski said, with a smile. He later added: “It’ll happen, I bet. Hopefully. We’ll see, we’ll keep trying. That was one of the better looks I’ve had at it, though.”
Recently named to his second straight Olympics, Pavelski was given a high compliment from his coach following his latest impressive performance. The Wisconsin native has eight goals and 12 points in his last 10 games, and has thrived on the Thornton line since injuries forced McLellan to take him off of the third line.
“When the team really needs him, he elevates his game,” McLellan said. “That’s the sign of a real good player. Again, playing with the two players that he does, he’s just got to get himself in the right spot and find pucks, and he took advantage of it again.”
Thornton rebounded from a rare poor performance in Nashville in Tuesday's 3-2 loss, aggressively driving the offensive zone, slamming on the breaks to create separation from a defender, and spotting Pavelski in the slot five minutes into the first period.
The captain earned a secondary assist later, on Dan Boyle’s late second period power play goal that gave the Sharks a three-goal lead to cap the scoring. He continues to lead the NHL in assists, with 45 in 45 games.
It was a rare goal from Andrew Desjardins, though, that really turned the tide. The fourth liner used the wall to get past Jakub Kindl in the neutral zone, and lifted a shot from inside the faceoff dot that somehow snuck through the short side of Jimmy Howard midway through regulation.
While one Team USA Olympian was on top of his game in Pavelski, Howard, who will be Pavelski’s teammate in Sochi as one of three American goaltenders, was not very good.
McLellan agreed that the Desjardins goal deflated Detroit, as the Sharks scored twice more before the second intermission.
“A bad goal can do that. I’m sure that’s one that Jimmy Howard would like to have back,” McLellan said. “The game is pretty even at that point, not a lot of flow, tight-checking, similar to the first game we played in Detroit (on Oct. 21, a 1-0 Sharks shootout win). That goal kind of opened it up for us for awhile, a good 10-minute phase we were able to get the lead, and manage it from there.”
Thornton said: “That kind of looked to take the wind out of their sails.”
The power play also remained hot, scoring for the ninth time in the last 29 tries, or about 31 percent. Boyle’s goal basically put the game out of reach for Detroit, which didn't look particularly dangerous in the second half of the game.
“We've been doing a decent job,” Boyle said of the power play. “It can always get better, of course, but it's definitely better now than it was certainly three or four weeks ago."
The Sharks remained virtually unbeatable at home, improving to 16-1-3 at SAP Center. They’re also sorry to see the season series with the now Eastern Conference-dwelling Red Wings come to an end, as they won both games against Detroit and are 11-2-1 in their last 14 against them.
“We've been successful against Detroit -- I've been here five or six years now -- for a little while. I can't explain it,” Boyle said. “It's easy to get up to play against them. We've played well."