Joe Pavelski

Pavelski heating up thanks to recent line change

pavelski-top-line-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

Pavelski heating up thanks to recent line change


Sharks captain Joe Pavelski is the last person the struggling Arizona Coyotes want to see. Well, unless the lottery-bound desert dogs are more concerned about fallin’ for (surefire No. 1 pick and Swedish defenseman Rasmus) Dahlin, then he might be the first person they want to see. 

Pavelski’s scored more points against the Coyotes (53) than any other franchise in his career, and is tied with Henrik Zetterberg for the seventh-most points against the Coyotes among active players. The bad (good?) news for Arizona is that Pavelski is red-hot.

In nine games without Joe Thornton, who remains out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair his right MCL, Pavelski has scored eight points (four goals, four assists). He scored seven since head coach Peter DeBoer moved Joonas Donskoi to one of Pavelski’s wings, opposite second-year winger Timo Meier, on Feb. 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

They’ve been nothing shy of dominant in six games together. With the trio on the ice, the Sharks controlled nearly two-thirds of the five-on-five shot attempts (65.32 percent corsi-for) and almost two-thirds of the five-on-five scoring chances (66.15 percent scoring chances-for) in just under an hour together, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

The Sharks scored as many five-on-five goals (six) when Donskoi, Meier, and Pavelski were on the ice as when they weren’t. They new-look top line did it in half the time as the rest of the lineup, which played just over two hours without them. 

Oh, and San Jose won four of those six games.

Pavelski, in particular, benefitted over that stretch. His five-on-five scoring rate (2.76 points per 60 minutes), shot rate (12.4 per 60), and individual scoring chance rate (11.71 per 60) not only lead the team over the last six games, but would be the highest such rates of his career if projected over an entire season. 

The 33-year-old, on pace for his fewest points since 2011-12 (61), has been in need of an offensive boost all season, particularly in Thornton’s absence. The Sharks have, too, and both they and Pavelski are getting one thanks to the new-look top line. 

DeBoer briefly broke up the trio in the third period of Sunday’s win in Anaheim, moving Donskoi to the third line and Jannik Hansen in his place with Meier and Pavelski. But at the morning skate on Tuesday, Donskoi was once again back on the first line, according to reporters.

That's the right call. It’s only been six games, but so far, Pavelski’s results alongside Meier and speak for themselves. 

In first game without Thornton, Sharks turn back the clock on top line

pavelski-us.jpg
USATSI

In first game without Thornton, Sharks turn back the clock on top line

With Joe Thornton set to undergo additional evaluation on his injured right knee, as a Sharks spokesman told reporters Thursday morning, San Jose will turn back the clock in their first game without the 38-year-old center on the top line Thursday night against the New York Rangers. 

Joe Pavelski skated on the first line, between Timo Meier and Mikkel Boedker, at the morning skate. Pavelski's mostly played on the wing over the last five seasons, but played center for the United States at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. 

He was also drafted as a center, and remains listed at the position on San Jose's roster. But functionally, Pavelski's been a winger for half a decade, and a great one at that: Only six players have scored more goals than Pavelski (155) since the beginning of the 2013-14 season.

Given his track record, and that he's played the wing almost exclusively during Peter DeBoer's three seasons behind the Sharks bench, it would have been reasonable to expect Pavelski to stay there in Thornton's absence. Had the latter signed elsewhere this offseason, that probably still would have been the case. 

Plus, Tomas Hertl entered the season as a center with Thornton on the roster, and both DeBoer and general manager Doug Wilson have said they envision him playing the position long-term. So wouldn't it have made sense to move Pavelski to Logan Couture's wing, and Hertl back to center? 

Not exactly, at least based on Couture and Pavelski's results together under DeBoer. There sample isn't very significant, as Couture and Pavelski have only played about 128-and-a-half five-on-five minutes together over the last three seasons, but the duo has only controlled 51.3 percent of the shot attempts and exactly 50 percent of the scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

The Sharks have also outscored opponents 9-3 in those minutes, which is much a testament to Pavelski and Couture's collective talent as it is the situations they've played together over the last three seasons. Their 128 five-on-five minutes together doesn't even represent five percent of either player's total ice time over the last three years, and those minutes consist almost entirely of shifts that overlapped and late-game situations where the Sharks either were chasing or preserving a lead. 

Hertl and Couture, meanwhile, have controlled 52.95 percent of the shot attempts and 52.30 percent of the scoring chances in over 436 five-on-five minutes together this season. They've been outscored 17-22, but that's likely because of an .891 on-ice save percentage compared to a .928 five-on-five save percentage when both players are off of the ice. 

They can't control their goaltender, but otherwise Couture and Hertl have been better together across a more representative sample than Couture and Pavelski. That's not to say that Couture and Pavelski can't achieve similar results together, but that there is some method to the madness of moving the captain back to center. 

The Sharks will learn how long the experiment needs to last before Thursday's tilt against the Rangers, and get a better idea of just how long turning back the clock can last after. 

Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak

pavelski-joe-sharks-white-bench.jpg
USATSI

Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak

The shootout has been kind to Joe Pavelski all season.

After scoring the shootout winner in Tuesday night’s win over the Coyotes, Pavelski has now scored the fourth-most shootout goals in a single season of his career, and there’s still 39 games left in the season. Only Artemi Panarin has scored more shootout goals (four) than the Sharks captain (three) on the year.

The Sharks have needed Pavelski more than they have after 65 minutes far more than in recent memory. San Jose’s won three games in the shootout this season, one more than last year and one shy from matching their total from the prior two seasons.

Again, there’s still 39 games to go.

San Jose is on pace to win their most games in the shootout since the Todd McLellan era, when they picked up no fewer than five shootout wins each season. This season, those wins are currently the difference between home ice advantage in the first round, as the Sharks are tied for second in the Pacific with two games in hand, and missing the playoffs.

They’ve needed every one of Pavelski’s shootout goals, too. File this under “statistics that are too good to be true,” but the proven postseason performer has scored each of his three shootout goals in San Jose’s three shootout wins, while failing to score in both of their losses.

Pavelski’s needed to deliver in the shootout at least in part because he often has not delivered when actual hockey’s been played. Injuries, age, and an at-times unfathomable lack of luck have all contributed, but the Wisconsin product is in the midst of one of the longest scoring droughts of his career.

He’s not scored an even strength goal since Dec. 1 against Florida. For those keeping score at home, that’s 19 games, a month, and a calendar change ago.

If Pavelski doesn’t score at even strength on Thursday against Colorado, he’ll have matched the longest even strength goal-scoring drought of his career. In 2010-11 and the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Pavelski went 20 games without an even strength tally.

To further put things into perspective, is tied with Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson for sixth on the team in even strength goals. Thornton’s enjoyed a nice shooting resurgence, but this is an instance where the setup man scoring as much as the sniper is not a positive development.

You can’t only fault for Pavelski for struggling so much, of course, as his team has scored the second-fewest even strength goals in the league this year. He’s also a victim of his own success, and subject to further outsized expectations because of the letter on his chest.

Tuesday showed Pavelski’s still found ways to contribute, even if he hasn’t found the back of the net at even strength. But if Pavelski’s drought lasts beyond Thursday, he’ll be on an unprecedented schnide as far as his career is concerned.

More performances like the former may ultimately be enough to get the Sharks into the postseason. More like the latter won’t get them much farther than that.