The first and third periods of the Sharks’ return to San Jose was about as lackluster as it gets, letting the Pacific Conference-dwelling Flames match them score-for-score. Still, it was the hot hand of Joe Pavelski that lifted them to their fourth-consecutive victory, a 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames to open a home game-heavy stretch of games leading into the Olympic break.
Pavelski is absolutely ridiculous. He’s always been a streaky scorer, but with so many crucial players down to injuries, this scoring tear couldn’t have come at a better time. Todd McLellan’s decision to move Pavelski from centering the third line to winging at the top with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns has paid off in spades. It’s reminiscent of last year’s decision to move Burns from defense to forward — the Sharks were in worse shape at the time, but it truly changed the 2012-13 Sharks’ fate. That move, couple with the trade for Torres, had the Sharks in a straight-faced conversation to be Cup contenders.
They could be in one again this year. Losing Tomas Hertl for the remainder hurts for sure, but Logan Couture will be back after the Olympics, as should Torres. With players named Hayes and Kearns playing considerable and meaningful minutes, treading water would have been an acceptable result over the last few weeks. The Sharks have done far better than that (7-3-0 in January), and it has a whole hell of a lot to do with Pavelski (11 goals, 2 assists in the same span).
The common factor in Hertl’s early performance, Pavelski’s recent performance and the mid-2012-13 resurrection? Joe Freakin’ Thorton. Jumbo has taken a ton of flack for being a playoff choker, not shooting enough, not scoring four goals and exposing himself, whatever. Thornton is a future Hall of Fame lock, not only because he’s skyrocketing up the all-time points list (he notched another assist tonight), but because he makes every player on the ice with him look like a Hall of Famer too. You take the occasional turnover on a no-look pass and the always frustrating choice to look off an empty net when you see his lines absolutely dominate and eat up minutes in the offensive zone. He’s a pure scorer’s dream linemate, and right now Pavelski is the guy benefiting from it. Pavelski is tied with Corey Perry for second in goals with 27 and he’s seventh in points with 50.
Who’s sixth? Joe Freakin’ Thornton.
Off the Post
— Look, I’m sorry, but this was another one of those games that you can’t really dress up. The way Calgary goaltender Karri Ramo was playing early, I thought the Sharks might go all crazy and put up nine like they did on the Rangers. Instead, they took their one-goal lead on Pavelski’s second-period goal and Mother Goose’d it.
— I made GIFs of the three goals the Sharks scored, but they’re more a representation of just how poorly Ramo and the Flames played. Jiri Hudler actually opened up the scoring, but Pavelski didn’t wait long to answer with a nice tip-in on a Justin Braun shot:
Then it was Tommy Wingels, with a goal that probably made Flames fans turn off their TVs:
What the GIF doesn’t show? Wingels setting up this play by chasing down an easily clearable puck on the other side of the ice and skating around the entire defense. Yeesh.
Finally, here’s the game-winner. This goal not only shows off how bad Calgary was, but also demonstrates my earlier point about Thornton: