Joe Pavelski is good at everything, making it all the more ironic that we often overlook how much he excels at the thing he’s paid millions of dollars to do.
The Sharks captain banged home his 31st goal of the season as part of a two-point showing during a 3-2 defeat of the Canucks on Saturday night. The goal, which came in the late stages of the third period, was very representative of what Pavelski does best. Cruising through the slot — the same place from which he’s tipped countless pucks — Pavelski jumped on a bouncing rebound and whipped it past Jacob Markstrom for the game-winner.
Start a conversation about the Sharks and you’re likely to run through talk of Brent Burns’s tattoos, Erik Karlsson’s skill and Joe Thornton’s affinity for not wearing a shirt long before you get to the seventh-round longshot who turned himself into one of hockey’s most dependable, high-end goal-producers. At 34 years old, Pavelski is on pace for a career-best 43 goals and this season marks the third time he’s hit the 30-goal barrier since his 30th birthday in July of 2014. That’s from a guy playing in a league set to hyper-speed who, once upon a time, had to hear about how his plodding feet would inevitably leave him in others’ dust.
Well, not if you chip, tip, whack and — oh yeah — thread the needle from scoring areas like Pavelski can.
As is the case with Karlsson and Thornton, Pavelski is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent come July 1. That said, it sure feels like by the time he gets to his Wisconsin fishing hole this summer, the contending Sharks and their leader will have worked something out to keep him in the fold. As I learned speaking to Pavelski’s buddy and one-time teammate Adam Burish, the former’s hands are the envy of their golf group and Pavelski is known to pull 10,000-cast fish — as in, that’s how many times you’re supposed to have to dip your line to catch one — out of the lake with regularity. He’s just one of those people who has the touch.
Of course, nothing would make this summer better for him than finally taking the Stanley Cup that’s eluded him back to his peaceful corner of the world.
Other Weekend Takeaways
• If Pavelski has quietly gone about his goal-scoring business, Alex Ovechkin has always been screaming his from a rooftop. The rollicking Russian scored his 40th goal of the season on Sunday in a loss to Anaheim that actually saw Ryan Miller establish a new wins mark for American puck-stoppers.
There is a new all-time leader in wins among American goaltenders, fittingly on Hockey Day in America. #HDIA
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 18, 2019
As for ‘Ovie,’ he became the fourth player in league history with at least 10 40-goal seasons on his resumé, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Marcel Dionne. I’m ready for another round of ‘Can he catch Gretzky?’ talk.
• Staying with the mega-stars, Sidney Crosby — now on pace for his first 100-point campaign since 2013-14 — had six points in a 1-1-0 weekend for Pittsburgh and Evgeni Malkin had five. The Penguins are in a dogfight for one of the final playoff berths in the East and there’s still no mystery as to who is driving the bus there.
• Good God, are the St. Louis Blues rolling. The team has won 10 straight outings (out-scoring opponents 40-14), and back-to-back road shutout wins on the weekend over Colorado and Minnesota mean St. Louis has now gone 187 minutes and 16 seconds without being scored on, dating back to an 8-3 win over New Jersey last Tuesday. Vladimir Tarasenko is on a 12-game point streak, registering 11-11-22 in that span. Rookie goalie Jordan Binnington has four shutouts in 14 career starts and has allowed more than two goals in a game just twice.
• Two players driving Carolina’s surge into the playoff mix: old guy Justin Williams and new guy Nino Niederreiter. The 37-year-old Williams — who won the Cup with Carolina in 2006 and two more with the Kings in 2012 and ’14 — scored his 15th goal of the season in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Dallas. The cagey vet has six points in his past four contests and his next goal will equal his 82-game total from last season with the Canes. As for Niederreiter, he has 13 points in 13 outings since being acquired from the Wild, including three points in Carolina’s weekend wins over Edmonton and Dallas.
• No offence Minnesota, but can someone else snag that second wild-card berth? The Wild still hold it despite getting spanked 4-0 by the Blues on Sunday. One of these years, I’d love to see the Wild delight ‘the State of Hockey’ with a Cup run. It’s not happening this year, though, and the thought of another bland Minnesota team bowing out in the first round just holds no appeal. I’d rather see that slot go to an upstart Vancouver club, a resilient Coyotes squad — even the resurgent Blackhawks would make for a more fun story than, ‘Perfectly fine Wild team makes playoffs again, fails to do anything exciting once there.’
• I mean, if you can’t go between the legs, top shelf over the best goalie of his generation with a defenceman hackin’ and whackin’ you, why even bother to tape your stick?
Red and White Power Rankings
Toronto Maple Leafs (36-19-3): I wonder if Kasperi Kapanen (18 goals) can finish the year with more goals than Phil Kessel (21) four years after the trade that sent Kessel to Pittsburgh and Kapanen north as a teenager.
Winnipeg Jets (36-19-4): Only two wins in their past seven. Basically, the Jets have the February ‘Blahs.’
Calgary Flames (35-16-7): The good news is they halted a four-game losing skid with a 5-4 win in Pittsburgh on Saturday. The bad news is James Neal missed the game with an upper-body injury sustained in Florida on Thursday and we’re still not sure how long he’ll be out.
Montreal Canadiens (31-21-7): Four straight Ls means bye-bye playoff cushion, as the Habs are now just one point clear of Carolina for the final post-season berth in the East.
Vancouver Canucks (26-27-7): Eight games without a regulation-time win for the Canucks.
Edmonton Oilers (24-29-5): The Oil are just four points clear of last overall and the narrative around coach Ken Hitchcock has gone from ‘His tough love is exactly what this team needs’ to ‘He’ll be out on his can if he can’t be nicer to these delicate guys.’ What an absolute horror show.
Ottawa Senators (22-31-5): Mark Stone, not Matt Duchene, is once again the betting favourite to stick around. I have to believe that’s how Sens fans would prefer it.
In Your Ear
Sportsnet’s Eric Francis doesn’t believe the Calgary team is a true contender. Blame him, not us! Francis also gave his take on Calgary’s deadline approach on the latest edition of Tape to Tape, which features co-host Rory Boylen and I partaking in some trade talk of our own.
• This is it folks, the final week for NHL clubs to swing deals this season. Ottawa and Columbus are still the most fascinating teams to watch, but there’s no shortage of clubs and players to keep an eye on.
• Even without any trades, it will be a big week for the Leafs. Toronto visits the hottest team in the league, St. Louis, on Tuesday, then hosts Ovechkin on Thursday and the Habs on Saturday.
• There will be serious playoff chase implications when Columbus visits Montreal on Tuesday and Chicago hosts Colorado on Friday.