SAN JOSE – When you’re one of the best passers in the history of the National Hockey League, you find a way to improvise when necessary in order to create offense. It helps when the guy you’re passing the puck to just happens to be on the best scoring streak of his career.
The ice was so bad at SAP Center on Monday night – each of the four Sharks players that spoke to the media after the 3-2 win said so, and the head coach agreed – that Joe Thornton resorted to lifting a pass into the air in an odd-man situation on a second period power play.
Joe Pavelski, camping out at the side of the net, placed what could have been a perfect bunt down the third base line into the open cage, giving the Sharks a lead that they would not relinquish for their fourth straight victory.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks extend win streak to four]
“The ice was just so bouncy tonight, I just tried to get it in the general direction,” Thornton said. “[Pavelski] just made a great play, just hand-eye coordination. He’s just playing great right now. The puck seems to hit him right now and go in.”
That was literally the case on the Sharks’ first goal, also credited to Pavelski. A Justin Braun shot first hit Calgary’s Mark Giordano in the slot, and then deflected in off of Pavelski’s right arm, tying the game at 1-1 in the first period.
Pavelski, who now has six goals in his last three games including a hat trick on Saturday, is tied with Corey Perry for second in the NHL in goals with 27. Only Alex Ovechkin (35) has more.
So, Little Joe, do you have Ovie in your sites?
“He’s a good player, we’ll just play one game [at a time],” Pavelski said, with a smile. “Focus on our next game, try get some rest here in the next day or two, and come out a little bit better and hopefully have a better effort out of us.”
As Pavelski pointed out, the win against the lowly Flames wasn’t the Sharks’ cleanest endeavor of the season. Not by a long shot. Calgary, now just 1-6-1 in its last eight, outplayed the Sharks for several stretches, including a third period push in which it was trying for an equalizer that never came.
Yes, the ice was bad. But, Todd McLellan wasn’t letting his boys off the hook.
“I didn't think we skated well,” McLellan said. “We didn't move our feet, and then we tried to pass standing still, and they were errant. Had no rhythm or tempo in the game, and really didn't establish a forecheck game other than the first four or five minutes of the game. So, it was a night we probably got away with one. The mindset wasn't real good, so we've got to regroup here. If we continue to play like that, we won't be winning."
Jason Demers said: “It was kind of an ugly game all around. The ice was a little iffy. At times we just tried to simplify our game, just get it in and try to forecheck them and get as many chances as we could.”
They were able to get away with it against the Flames thanks to Pavelski’s goals, and a bad-angle marker from Tommy Wingels, but also by staying out of the penalty box. For the second time this season, the Sharks were not shorthanded even once. Disciplined play has been a staple of their game all season as they have been shorthanded just 128 times, fewest in the league by a large margin (Colorado is second with 146).
“We were fortunate we didn't take penalties,” McLellan said. “Positioning and legs, your stick is important as long as it stays on the ice. We preach that a lot, and our guys have been very good in that area."
It allowed the Sharks to win the special teams battle, and ultimately the game, thanks to Thornton and Pavelski teaming up with Matt Stajan in the box for interference on what was the game’s only penalty.
“It was just one of those weird nights, we’re just thankful to get two points out of it,” Thornton said.