Sharks

Thornton, Pavelski thriving since All-Star break

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Thornton, Pavelski thriving since All-Star break

TAMPA Youd be hard pressed to find hotter linemates since the All-Star break than Sharks forwards Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.

In the seven games since the NHL shut down for its midseason celebration, the two Joes have combined for 22 points (9g, 13a) while playing together in both even-strength and power play situations. Thornton has four goals and eight assists for 12 points, while Pavelski has five goals and five assists for 10 points.

After All-Star break we just kind of picked up our play a little bit. For whatever reason we just needed some rest, or whatever, Thornton said. I like playing with Joe. He sees the ice well and has a knack for being around the net and putting in timely goals. We enjoy playing with each other.

Pavelski agreed, admitting that the complete week between the Sharks last game before the break and first one after was beneficial.

I think that was really important. The legs were getting a little heavy there, he said. You just freshen up, and get that jump back in your step you had there at the beginning of the season.

There are a couple more distinct factors at play when it comes to the uptick in production from Pavelski and Thornton. The most obvious is the power play. Dating back to the Sharks game in Vancouver on Jan. 21, when Pavelski was moved back to the point, San Jose is 13-for-32 with a man advantage (40.6 percent).

In fact, three of Pavelskis five goals have come on the power play, and Thornton had an assist on all of them.

That ended a brutal two-month stretch for San Jose, which had just 26 power play goals in the first 44 games before the recent surge. After a 3-for-6 performance on Monday night in Washington, the Sharks find themselves fourth in the league on the power play (21.0 percent).

To climb from where we were, and we reminded them of this after the St. Louis game, to where we are now, is a credit to them. It became real important to them and real important to our team that we fix that area, said Todd McLellan, referring to an 0-for-4 performance against the Blues on Sunday night.

When youre playing well in that area, it should translate over to feeling good about your game and having some confidence elsewhere.

By elsewhere, McLellan meant five-on-five play, and Pavelski agreed that power play success has helped his even-strength play.

When you get to play a little bit on the power play you get the puck a little more, it just might change your feel, like the puck is coming to you tonight and youre around the net a little bit more. That feeling of confidence can definitely cross over.

The power play has had its up and downs this year but recently, its been really, really good. Were really confident with it, Thornton said.

There's more. Thornton has made a decision, likely influenced by the coaching staff, to shoot the puck.

In the first four games after the break, Thornton had 18 shots on goal. To put that number in context, he had a total of three shots in five games immediately preceding the break.

I think theyre doing some things offensively that maybe they didnt do as much of earlier. A lot is the power play polishing itself up a little bit which is nice to see, but the other is Jumbo is shooting the puck a lot more, McLellan said.

We have better net presence, were in and around the blue paint a little bit more, and theyre getting rewarded with offense because of it. You look at some of the goals weve scored, they have been second and third pokes in and around the blue paint. Even the best players in the world have to be reminded to go there sometimes.

By breaking from his typical pass-first mentality, Thornton may be able to take advantage of opponents who are used to seeing him scan the ice for an open winger or defenseman by firing it on goal and letting players like Pavelski sift through the traffic in front of the net.

I think Jumbo has made a real effort to get more pucks on the net, and the rest benefit off of it, McLellan said. Its unpredictable, and not everybodys playing the pass. It does change the dynamic of an offensive play.

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

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USATSI

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

The difference between a 2-3-0 start and a 1-4-0 start is bigger than two standings points.

The former is far from ideal, but if you squint hard enough, there's enough wiggle room to improve. There's still time with the latter, too, but the margin for error is much thinner moving forward.

The Sharks experienced that difference firsthand after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It's not an ideal record, but they’ve managed to salvage a poor start. 

There are still some flaws, to be sure. The power play isn't just the Kevin Labanc show after the top unit scored all three power play goals Tuesday, but is still carrying a disproportionate offensive load. The penalty kill’s scoreless streak came to an end, but they were called into action six times.

Despite all that, Tuesday's win was San Jose’s best effort this season. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton all had multi-point games for the first time this year. Martin Jones had another strong game, and appears to have shaken off his slow start.

In short, San Jose’s game is headed in the right direction. It needs to be, with a five-game road trip beginning on Friday. 

Now comes the hard part.

It's on the road where we’ll get our best sense of who this team really is. Peter DeBoer won’t have the benefit of last change, and won't be able to dictate matchups. 

Under these circumstances, we’ll begin to really see if Joakim Ryan is ready for a top-four role, whether Kevin Labanc is a viable first-line winger, and how the rest of the young reinforcements stack up. They will have less time off, too, as all but one game occurs after one day (or less) of rest and travel. That missed practice time isn't ideal for any team, let alone one still trying to work out the kinks.

Fortunately, the competition is forgiving, at least on paper. Other than the Devils, none of the Sharks’ four other road trip opponents have winning records as of this writing. The topsy turvy nature of the standings, though, show how little “on paper” means this early in the season.

We’ll know a lot more about who these San Jose Sharks are by the time their road trip ends. Their record still won't tell the whole story, but by then, they'll have played about an eighth of the season. 

And by then, we’ll have a much better idea of how good this team really is.

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

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AP

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Logan Couture credited a teammate for scoring his second goal. He took credit for the first one.

Couture scored a pair of goals and the San Jose Sharks extended their dominance of the Montreal Canadiens with a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night.

Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl also scored for the Sharks, who have won the past 11 home games against the Canadiens, a streak that dates to Nov. 23, 1999.

On a power play late in the third period, rookie Tim Heed took a shot off a face-off that bounced free in front of the net. Pavelski couldn't get his stick on it but managed to kick it across the net for Couture, who found a huge opening.

"That was pretty special," Couture said. "I don't know if he knew I was there but he kept his balance and kicked it over."

Couture opened the scoring 3:30 into the first period, grabbing a rebound off the back board, skating across the front of the net to get Price to commit and then firing into an open net.

Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber scored for the Canadiens, who are winless since an opening night victory at the Buffalo Sabres.

"It's a very poor start from our team, from myself, from a lot of individuals," Canadiens' Max Pacioretty said. "It's a good time to look in the mirror and see what we're made of because a lot of people are probably doubting this team right now."

Martin Jones stopped 28 of 30 shots for the Sharks, who finish their season-opening homestand with a 2-3 record.

"The biggest thing is finding that energy for the whole game," Jones said. "We started OK and then we got better as the night went on."

Carey Price, who stopped 31 of 35 shots, fell to 2-7-1 in 10 games against the Sharks.

The Canadiens responded 36 seconds later when Drouin picked up a pass from Artturi Lehkonen close in and fired it over Jones' left shoulder and into the net.

Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead for good when he redirected Kevin Labanc's shot just under a minute into the second period. The shot hit Weber's left shin pad and bounced into the net.

"There were a lot of good things out there," Pavelski said. "We didn't have the homestand we wanted but we can leave on a positive note to take on the road."

Hertl padded the lead midway through the second on a power play. Standing on the right side of the net, he was trying to control a pass from Joe Thornton but the puck fluttered off his stick and got behind Price.

"I'll take it any way I can get it," Hertl said. "There are times I've had great shots that just bounced off the post."

Weber's power-play goal two minutes later kicked off Jones' skates for the score.

The Sharks needed five seconds to score on a power play late in the second period. Tim Heed shot on goal and it bounced off Pavelski's skate. Couture picked it up and found a huge opening.

NOTES: After allowing three power play goals over their first five penalty kills, the Sharks killed off 14 straight until Weber scored in the second period. ... Couture recorded his 24th career multi-goal game. ... Sharks D Tim Heed recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Couture's power-play goal. ... Brendan Gallagher needs one assist for 100 with the Canadiens.

UP NEXT:

Canadiens: plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday in their second back-to-back of the season.

Sharks: open a five-game road trip on the east coast with a game at the New Jersey Devils on Friday.