SAN JOSE – Brent Burns’ move from defenseman to forward may be getting all the attention, but there’s another reason the Sharks offense has been able to consistently produce since coming out of its six-week slump from February through mid-March.
On March 25 before a game in Anaheim, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan moved Joe Pavelski, who was mired in a dreadful scoring slump, to third line center. He scored a goal that night, and in each of the next four games, and has seven goals and four assists in 14 games as the Sharks have gone 11-2-1 over that span to essentially assure themselves a spot in the playoffs.
Pavelski has played plenty of center in the past, including earlier in his Sharks career, but had spent the majority of the past two seasons on the wing of one of the top two scoring lines.
“He has more touches in the middle, controls the puck a little bit more,” McLellan said. “It created a third line that can either check, or play in an offensive mismatch. He’s benefited from that a bit, as well.”
The man sometimes referred to as “The Big Pavelski” abided by the coach’s decision.
“It looks good right now,” Pavelski said.
In the 14 games before switching positions, Pavelski managed just one goal and one assist. The Sharks were getting virtually no production from their bottom two lines, but Pavelski wasn’t contributing in a top six role, either.
“I thought there was a little bit of a lull in his game,” McLellan said. “When we think about him as an individual, he’s played a lot of hockey this year. He’s been over to [Belarus], played a lot of games there, came back, and it’s April 20, so that’s a lot of hockey. He had his little lull, but I see him being very competitive and very sharp right now, so that’s all that counts.”
Pavelski took responsibility for his slump.
“It just wasn’t good enough, to be honest,” he said. “When you’re good, and you’ve got your game, you’re usually scoring. A big part of it started with me, and I think as a whole team we just weren’t winning, and didn’t have quite the confidence or the jump we needed.”
The Sharks scored five goals on March 25 in Anaheim, and the offense hasn’t looked back. They’ve scored 41 goals in the last 14 games, for an average of nearly three per game (2.92).
On the morning on March 25, before Pavelski's position change, the Sharks were dead last in the league with just 2.20 goals per game.
Pavelski’s transition led to a more balanced attack and opened up opportunities for others, too.
“It’s just a nice balance,” Dan Boyle said. “You’ve seen the last little while, [Logan Couture’s] line playing against the top lines, and they’re doing a hell of a job. It’s given [Joe Thornton] a little more time away from some top matchups. It was like a piece of a puzzle that kind of came together.”
Some of the personnel changes have helped, too. Pavelski and Raffi Torres have shown good chemistry since the latter was acquired from Phoenix, and that line generated a pair of goals against Minnesota in the third period of Thursday’s 6-1 win.
Along with Tommy Wingels, that trio provides a scoring punch that can also play physical. Wingels continues to lead the Sharks in hits with 104, and Torres is, well, Torres.
It starts with Pavelski, though.
McLellan said: “With some of the changes we’ve made roster-wise, it just fit well with what we’re doing. When certain individuals elevate their game and give you what they really have, it makes it a lot easier to move people around.”
“He makes everything pretty easy out there,” Torres said of Pavelski after the Wild game. “He’s a smart player, he’s always in the right position. For a guy like me, you can probably tell I’m trying to get him the puck right away and just get my legs going.”
Maintaining that production and keeping the offensive attack balanced among the forward lines could be the difference between a long playoff run and an early exit.
“Our third line, we’ve kept it simple,” Pavelski said. “There’s been a few areas of the ice where we want to be as simple as we can – when we get our chances, shoot and shoot. We’ve had some success.”