Sharks' Pavelski to face Team USA linemates

Sharks' Pavelski to face Team USA linemates
March 11, 2014, 12:00 pm
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Joe Pavelski will face Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk on Tuesday, who he skated with for Team USA in Sochi. (USATSI)

Programming note: Sharks-Maple Leafs coverage starts tonight at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California

SAN JOSE -- Sharks forward Joe Pavleksi has had some pretty darn good linemates for the past two months.

On Tuesday against Toronto, he’ll remain as the left wing on the Joe Thornton-Brent Burns line, where he settled in after Logan Couture’s injury in mid-January. He’ll also get a chance to see his wingers from Sochi, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, who make up two-thirds of the most productive lines in hockey since the start of 2014, along with center Tyler Bozak.

“They’re good players,” Pavelski said of his opponents Tuesday night. “Phil can score a lot of goals, he’s a really good one-on-one player with his speed, and off the rush. James is pretty good around the net, big body and makes plays. They both can skate well. It’s nothing that I don’t think anybody doesn’t know about them.”

Until the Americans were shut down in the medal round games, the Pavelski-Kessel-van Riemsdyk line was the Olympics’ best. They ended up as the three highest scorers for Team USA, with Kessel getting eight points, van Riemsdyk seven and Pavelski five.

Pavelski said: “It was good for a little while. Those guys skated well and we made plays. The entries were good. They both have really good puck skills, making plays and seeing each other around the ice.”

Marc-Edouard Vlasic had a different perspective, and was part of a defense corps that shut down the Americans in the semifinal round, 1-0.

“We just wanted to be aware of them,” Vlasic said. “Obviously, the other lines were probably not producing the way they wanted to, but they could have broken out at any time. We knew overall they had speed and skill, and obviously the two Leaf guys have speed and skill.”

All three players are among their team leaders, too. Pavelski remains the Sharks’ top goal-scorer with 32, while Kessel is tops on his team (and second in the NHL) with 73 points. His linemate van Riemsdyk is second on the Maple Leafs in goals (26) and points (53).

Shutting down that line will be paramount if the Sharks want to close out their homestand with a win, and subsequently draw to within just two points of division-leading Anaheim. Since Jan. 1, Toronto's top line has combined for 37 goals and 49 assists, leading the NHL.

“They've got one of the highest scoring lines in 2014 going. They're a handful,” McLellan said. “We'll have our work cut out for us."

Pavelski said: “Their strength are their forwards. If we get a chance to play against their D and keep the puck out of their forwards’ hands a little more, [limiting] their rush chances, that’s going to help us out.”