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.

Top pick Meier 'real close' to making Sharks debut

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USATSI

Top pick Meier 'real close' to making Sharks debut

SAN JOSE – Struggling to score goals lately with two or fewer in eight of their last 11 games, the Sharks may soon turn to their biggest prospect to try and give the offense a boost.

Timo Meier, the ninth overall pick from the 2015 draft, is tearing up the American Hockey League lately with the Barracuda. He scored four goals (and registered 15 shots) in two games in San Antonio over the weekend, has eight points (5g, 3a) in his last four games, and leads the Barracuda with eight goals.

On Thursday, Pete DeBoer was asked what he’s heard about Meier lately and how close he may be.

“Good things, and real close,” DeBoer said. “I think he would have been even a consideration [Wednesday], but he came down I think with the flu. 

“You feel for him because we’re looking to bring some guys in, and he obviously had a great weekend. He’s one of quite a few guys down there that we feel real comfortable can come in here and are going to help us before the year ends, for sure.”

It’s the second time an illness has affected Meier’s status, as he came down with mononucleosis early in training camp and missed a month of action. He did, however, return to Barracuda practice this week.

One month ago, Barracuda coach Roy Sommer told CSN that Meier had to make some adjustments coming out of juniors. 

“He’s just has to simplify his game,” Sommer said on Nov. 9. “I think he’s just trying to do too much. He’s got to be north-south, and [forget] this circling and trying to put pucks through people. … It’s not going to work.”

Apparently, Meier has figured it out. On Tuesday, Sommer told The Gackle Report: “He’s getting better every game. At the start, I was going, oh man, he’s all over the map, circling and not using his teammates. But shoot, now he just keeps producing.”

“We’ve spent a lot of time with him on video and he picks stuff up.”

The 2015 draft has already produced several players that are regular contributors for their respective clubs, led by Connor McDavid (Edmonton), Jack Eichel (Buffalo), Mitch Marner (Toronto) and Zach Werenski (Columbus). 

Meier is the only player among the top 11 picks that year that has yet to play an NHL game, while 17 of 30 of the players overall chosen in the first round have played at least one NHL game.

Sharks still struggling to get consistent offense

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USATSI

Sharks still struggling to get consistent offense

SAN JOSE – There are games where the Sharks’ lack of offensive firepower isn’t an issue. Recent 2-1 wins over two of the best teams in the league, Chicago and Montreal, were impressive in that San Jose kept a pair of the league’s better offenses from getting more than a single score.

In other instances, though, that necessary goal from the team’s depth just hasn’t come. Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Ottawa was one example. The Sharks got goals from Logan Couture and Brent Burns – no surprise there – while Joe Pavelski was all around the net, generating more scoring chances than any single player on the ice.

Again, though, the depth forwards and defensemen other than Burns never found the scoresheet. 

And it’s becoming a real issue.

In fact, in the Sharks’ last 11 games in which they’ve gotten 25 goals total, 60 percent of them have come from just those three aforementioned players – Couture (7g), Burns (5g) and Pavelski (3g).

Also over that span, in which San Jose has gone 6-4-1, they’ve gotten no goals from Joe Thornton, Joonas Donskoi, Mikkel Boedker, Micheal Haley or Melker Karlsson; one goal apiece from Joel Ward and Tommy Wingels; and just one goal by a defenseman other than Burns (Dylan DeMelo). Of the 12 forwards that dressed against the Senators, eight of them had two or fewer goals.

The Sharks sit at 23rd in the NHL at 2.38 goals-per game. Sure, it’s just fine winning games by 2-1 final scores. But at some point, other guys are going to have to start putting the puck in the net if this team is truly going to contend for the Stanley Cup.

Couture – who himself got off to a slow start offensively – believes it’s going to come soon.

“Everyone wants to score,” Couture said after the Senators game. “It’s not about trying, it’s just the way that things are going right now. Pucks just aren’t going in for some guys, and, hey, I went through the same thing for awhile there where I wasn’t finding the back of the net. 

“That’s the way that goal-scoring works in the NHL, is you go through streaks where you’re hot and when you’re cold. Some guys are going to get hot soon. It’s going to happen.”

For his part, coach Pete DeBoer also believes the offense will pick up shortly. In the Senators game, the coaching staff internally tracked the scoring chances as 22 for the Sharks and just eight for Ottawa.

When that happens, “you should win, and you should score more than two goals,” DeBoer said.

Without getting into specifics, DeBoer pointed to the “analytics of where we are in the league” as a reason not to panic. Perhaps he’s aware that the Sharks are sixth in the league in shot-attempt percentage (52.25), and first in the NHL in shot-attempt percentage in close games (55.67).

Still, those numbers don’t mean anything when the puck isn’t going in. So what’s missing?

“I just think finish. I think we’re doing a lot of things right,” DeBoer said.

“Obviously I’d love to see us score some more goals five-on-five, but we’re getting some chances,” Ward said. “I would think if we weren’t or if we were getting shelled then it would definitely be something to be concerned about. … We’ve had some good looks and some really quality chances. Things just haven’t fallen in five-on-five, but I think that will come around.”