LOS ANGELES – The Sharks sure know how to close out lengthy road trips.
In the fifth and final game of another cross-country trek, San Jose erased a two-goal deficit and got past its bitter rival the Kings at Staples Center on Tuesday night, 5-3.
As is becoming commonplace when the Sharks need a momentum shift, captain Joe Pavelski turned the tide. The Sharks’ leading scorer netted a pair of third period power play goals to go along with an earlier helper, while Joe Thornton continued to emerge from a dreadful scoring slump by the future Hall-of-Famer’s standards with one goal and two assists of his own.
In November, the Sharks swept a six-game roadie capped by a come-from-behind win in Columbus in the final game. That was also a 5-3 victory in a game they trailed, 3-1.
Pete DeBoer called Tuesday’s triumph a character win for the Sharks, who surrendered a season-high 21 first period shots and the game’s first two goals before coming on.
“A lot of character. I said that to them,” DeBoer said. “I’ve seen glimpses of some really special things here through the first half. Our record isn’t where we want it to be, but the 6-0 road trip, coming down back from 3-1 at the end of that one in Columbus, in the third period tonight – there are some good things happening here.”
While Pavelski’s game on Tuesday was impressive, the captain was the driving force throughout the duration of the trip. He totaled 10 points (5g, 5a) as the Sharks posted a 3-1-1 record that included wins in Montreal and Toronto and an overtime loss in Chicago.
He deftly tipped in a Brent Burns power play point shot to tie the game at 3-3 in the third period, and less than two minutes later he found open ice in the slot and whipped in a nice setup from Thornton.
“We talked about this whole road trip that we had five games to really make a push and play hard, and put on a good performance each night,” Pavelski said. “That was the talk coming into tonight, we had one more game, and maybe take a breath over the holidays and get ready to come back. It was good to see.”
Along with speaking with his play, DeBoer indicated that Pavelski was doing plenty of talking off the ice, too.
“The work he puts in, some natural ability, but even beyond that – between the Chicago game and tonight – there’s a reason he’s the captain,” DeBoer said. “He was just willing us to win. … When your best player is that honest and working that hard and cares that much, everyone else tends to follow.”
Thornton also had a productive swing. The 36-year-old veteran had at least one point in each of the five games, with seven points total (2g, 5a). That preceded a stretch where Thornton had just two points in his previous 11 games.
Any concern he’d get going?
“I’ve been doing it too long to worry,” Thornton said. “It was never a worry, no.”
Special teams has been key for the Sharks, including on Tuesday. After what was probably their worst power play of the season in the second period, they regrouped to score the pair by Pavelski after consecutive penalties to Christian Ehrhoff and Milan Lucic. In the last four games, the Sharks are 6-for-14 on the power play.
The penalty killers continued to impress, too, going 3-for-3 against the Kings. That unit is 37-for-40 over the last 14 games.
Both units have ironed out some early struggles.
“We really felt that both pieces were close to being very good, even though things weren’t going right for awhile there,” DeBoer said. “I think to our credit and our assistant coaches credit, they stuck with it and kept laying the foundation for it. We’re finally getting rewarded in both those areas.”
It all adds up to the team feeling good about itself heading into four days off for Christmas. While they’ve been impressive on the road, they’ll have a chance to start winning at home after the holiday, with 11 of their next 14 at SAP Center before another break for All-Star weekend. The Sharks are 4-9 at home, and 13-6-2 on the road.
“It was important to have a good road trip here, and we’ve just got to make sure we’re ready to go after the break, and win some home games,” said Martin Jones, who stopped 33 shots.
Perhaps they can even make a run at the Kings, who are now six points ahead with plenty of hockey yet to play.
“We kind of tightened the gap between the two teams,” Thornton said. “It’s a huge win before the break here.”
DeBoer said: “Nice end of the road trip. Nice way to go into the break. I thought it was a real gutsy effort by us.”