Thornton, Pavelski thriving since All-Star break

February 15, 2012, 8:35 pm
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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.