Gustav Nyquist

How Sharks have missed Joe Pavelski's presence both on and off the ice

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AP

How Sharks have missed Joe Pavelski's presence both on and off the ice

SAN JOSE -- Thursday was the rehearsal. Saturday is the real thing.

The Sharks welcomed back a former player in their win over the Blue Jackets on Thursday night, but no offense to Gus Nyquist -- it was just another game for San Jose.

The same cannot be said for Saturday night's bout against Joe Pavelski and the visiting Dallas Stars.

After playing 963 games in a Sharks uniform, Pavelski returns to SAP Center on Saturday night as a visiting player for the very first time. Arguably the most beloved captain in franchise history, Pavelski was signed by Dallas in free agency after he and the Sharks failed to reach a contract agreement. No ill will is harbored on either side -- quite the opposite, actually -- and his absence has been felt throughout what has been an atypically down season in San Jose.

Throughout Pavelski's 13 seasons with the Sharks, the team failed to qualify for the postseason only once and never posted a points percentage lower than 54.3 percent. Currently, San Jose is well off the pace to qualify for the playoffs and has totaled only 47.8 percent of its maximum possible points thus far. Part of the problem has been the offense, as the Sharks are scoring nearly one fewer goal per game this season (2.65) than they did last year (3.52). That might be the area where Pavelski's absence has been most evident, but the Sharks certainly have missed their former captain's presence off the ice, as well.

"A guy like that is very, very tough to replace," Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner said of Pavelski following San Jose's morning skate Saturday. "I think more than anything, it's the friendships and the bonds he had in the dressing room. And listening to some of the player's comments the last couple days about how hard he worked and how he prepared and how he kept guys accountable, you can never have enough guys like that.

"The guys that are doing it now have done a good job, but Pavs was a guy that everybody looked up to and had a lot of respect for."

It's not as if there's a leadership vacuum in San Jose's locker room this season. There's an ample number of veterans ready and willing to carry the torch, but with the Sharks in somewhat of a transitional phase, Pavelski remains a model for which some of the next wave of team leaders can still learn from.

"Being around [Joe Thornton] and [Patrick] Marleau, the guys have a couple great examples there," Boughner added. "More than anything, it's [Pavelski's] leadership. It's how he handles himself in the dressing room, in the community and things like that. I think guys like [Logan Couture] and [Tomas] Hertl and Timo Meier and [Kevin Labanc] -- those are the guys that could really try to emulate what kind of guy he was off the ice."

[RELATED: Pavelski believes skill, character will help Sharks rebound]

Right now, "off the ice" describes all that Couture is able to do. A fractured ankle suffered in Tuesday's loss to the St. Louis Blues will keep him out for several weeks, further exacerbating the Sharks' lack of offense, as he ranks fourth on the team in goals (14) and is tied for second in assists (22). Similar to Pavelski, the impact of Couture's absence is likely to be readily apparent before long, but as Boughner explained, it's no coincidence that San Jose's current captain took over the 'C' from the previous one.

"They're their own individuals when it comes to their games," Boughner said, "but [Couture] is probably the guy that you could say is responsible in all three zones and plays the right way and plays a lot like Pavs."

Neither Couture nor Pavelski will be wearing a Sharks sweater when San Jose takes the ice Saturday night. For everyone involved, that's going to take some getting used to.

Why Sharks need Martin Jones to outperform No. 23 overall goalie rating

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USATSI

Why Sharks need Martin Jones to outperform No. 23 overall goalie rating

It's no mystery what the Sharks' weakness was last season.

San Jose set a franchise record with 289 regular-season goals, tied for the second-most in the league. The problem was, they allowed 258, the most of any playoff team.

Martin Jones is coming off the worst season of his career, in which he posted an .896 save percentage and 2.94 goals against average. He wasn't much better in 20 postseason games, with a slightly better save percentage (.898) and slightly worse GAA (3.02).

So, it comes as no surprise that Jones didn't rank highly in The Athletic's 2019-20 Goalie Tiers.

An anonymous 17-person panel consisting of seven NHL general managers, four NHL head coaches, three assistant GMs and three goalie coaches rated every starting goalie on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 representing a goalie who should challenge for the Vezina Trophy, and a 5 representing goalies who shouldn't be starters. The results were averaged, then sorted into tiers.

According to that panel, Jones was rated as the No. 23 overall netminder in the league, closer to the bottom of tier 3 than the top of it.

"He had the lowest save percentage in the NHL last year. Where would you rank him?” One of the anonymous executives questioned. “Jones is a better goalie than we’ve seen. I was surprised how his year went last year."

"It’s amazing what San Jose did with him (in goal)," a head coach responded.

"They played good defensively and he was (bad)," another coach summarized. "He’s had good moments. But he just didn’t stop pucks. I like the way he looks but he just doesn’t stop pucks."

Like I said, no mystery.

[RELATED: Sharks goalie Jones 'really solid' in his preseason debut]

If San Jose is going to compete for the Stanley Cup this coming season, chances are the Sharks will need Jones to perform better than the No. 23 overall goalie in the league. They have lost more than 20 percent of their regular-season goal total from last season after Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist departed in free agency, and with little in the way of obvious replacements on the roster, it seems unlikely San Jose will find the back of the net as often as it did a year ago.

Assuming the Sharks don't, they'll have to make up the difference elsewhere, and that's where Jones comes in.

Mic'd-up Joe Thornton's youthful energy on display at Sharks practice

Mic'd-up Joe Thornton's youthful energy on display at Sharks practice

Whether or not Joe Thornton is a national treasure is debatable, but he's certainly a regional one.

The future Hall of Famer was mic'd up at a recent Sharks' practice, and he put that quality on display. The 40-year-old didn't appear as if his age has caught up to him, as he was quite talkative and involved throughout.

Just watch for yourself:

Whether it was chasing on the forecheck or missing an empty net, the eldest member of the Sharks looked anything but. Enjoying his first healthy offseason in recent memory, Thornton's energy is certainly palpable, and that bodes well for the Sharks as they attempt to get back to the playoffs for the 20th time in the last 22 seasons.

Thornton signed a one-year contract at the beginning of the month to return to the Sharks for his 15th season in San Jose. He'll be one of four alternate captains on the team, after Logan Couture was named the 10th full-time captain in franchise history, taking over for the departed Joe Pavelski.

With Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist leaving in free agency during the offseason, the Sharks are counting on several prospects to take a step forward this coming season -- and on Thornton to help them succeed at the NHL level. While line pairings are still in flux, it wouldn't be shocking whatsoever to see Thornton paired with one of those prospects on his wing.

[RELATED: Sharks' roster hopefuls still 'auditioning' as season nears]

Based on Thornton's mic'd up session, he'll be talking that prospects' ear off all game long.