Six times this season the Sharks have embarked on road trips of at least three games, including a stretch this week that took them from Washington to Florida to Tampa Bay.
Each of the first five ended with a thud. Entering Saturday’s matinee against the Lightning, the Sharks had dropped all five games that capped a long trip, including four in regulation and one in overtime.
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After Martin St. Louis made it 4-2 early in the second with his fourth goal of the game, there wasn’t much reason to think that Saturday’s game would be any different. The Sharks weren’t playing very well defensively and had allowed two power play goals in a game for the first time in a month and a half.
Enter Joe Pavelski. The 29-year-old forward reeled off three straight goals in the second period to give his team a sudden lead by the end of the frame, and the Sharks tightened up in their own zone for the third period of a 5-4 win over the Lightning.
“It was a sloppily played game, at least by our group, I’m not sure how they feel with theirs,” said Todd McLellan, seemingly unaware of how entertaining the game was from fan’s standpoint. “A lot of turnovers, which created a lot of skating up and down for nothing. Got a lot better in the third. … After experiencing it for two periods and getting the lead, I hoped we would respond, and we did.”
The Sharks allowed just six shots in the third, and Antti Niemi made a key save on Tyler Johnson with 28 seconds left to seal the win.
Pavelski led the attack offensively with his first career hat trick.
“We’ve ended road trips with losses more often than not, and we wanted to build on a clean sweep, for a change,” Pavelski said. “Just stay with it. It was a weird game. It was really weird the way pucks were going in the net and the way the game was [unfolding]. We had to get back to skating, laying pucks in deep, and playing our hockey.”
Pavelski finding the scoresheet was perhaps the most expected feature of the win. Since moving to the wing of the Joe Thornton-Brent Burns line, Pavelski has 12 goals and five assists for 17 points in 14 games. He leads the Sharks with 25 goals.
Possibly more encouraging is that players like Tyler Kennedy and Matt Nieto seem to be coming on. Kennedy extended his point-scoring streak to three games with a fancy assist on Pavelski’s first goal, and Nieto scored his second goal in as many games after a 28-game drought.
McLellan was asked about the rookie Nieto after the game.
“He should be real confident right now,” McLellan said. “He started the year that way, fell off, had an injury, went to the minors and played for a little while, but he’s been given every opportunity here right now. He’s playing with some very good players in [Tommy] Wingels and [Patrick] Marleau. Feeling a lot better around the net, obviously. Shooting the puck a little bit more.”
Logan Couture still out for at least a couple more weeks with a hand injury, the Sharks would welcome more players getting their names on the scoresheet than just Pavelski and the usual suspects.
“Guys stepping up and getting a chance, they’ve made an impact for us,” Pavelski said. “We need that going on, and it’s good. This experience that guys are getting right now, it will pay off at the end.”
The Sharks will now enter perhaps the easiest portion of their schedule when they begin a stretch of eight home games out of 10 leading into February’s Olympic break. Only games against the Kings and Blackhawks, both at home, stick out as overly challenging.
They’ll aim to build on what is now a three-game winning streak.
“The last game on the road for us hasn’t always been a gem. Going three [wins] in three [games], we’ll take it,” McLellan said.