Negative press is so easy in times like these. Writers are chomping at the bit to jump all over the failed season. Sure, the streak is broken. Sure, the leadership is in shambles. Sure, the front office is probably the laughing stock of the league. But remember, the Sharks still had Joe Pavelski on their side.
Joe Pavelski, Soon-to-be Captain Fantastic
The stats are incredible. Rightfully named as the best player of the year for San Jose, Pavelski has amassed 69 points. His 37 goals are ten more than Logan Couture’s second place mark. He is tied for the plus/minus lead with +12 alongside Vlasic. And Joe Pavelski has 30 power play points. He even led in shooting percentage. There was literally nothing Joe Pavelski couldn’t do this year. But, hockey is a team game. Joe couldn’t necessarily do it alone.
The Importance of Being With Joe
Two Joe’s on one line. Joe Thornton is Pavelski’s center this year whether we like it or not. But we all should. Jumbo Joe supplied assists on 24 of Little Joe’s goals. That pairing is second only to the Capitals’ Backstrom and Ovechkin. I wouldn’t really call that pair a thing of chemistry, however. Backstrom had a number of assists on the power play where Ovechkin camped on a faceoff dot and magically transported the puck to the back of the net.
Not to take anything away from Backstrom and Ovechkin; they are both tremendous talents and are major reasons why Washington is in the postseason. But, despite a less prolific offense, Joe Thornton only has one less primary assist than the Capitals playmaker (28 and 29, respectively). And Backstrom’s assist numbers are buoyed by 29 power play markers to Thornton’s 17. Plus, Thornton ranks seventh in the league for even strength Corsi For percentage. Facts are, playing next to Joe Thornton means more offensive zone time and more offensive stats.
Predator on the Power Play
The aforementioned Alex Ovechkin topped the league in power play goals, but Joe Pavelski wasn’t too shabby himself on the man advantage.
Unlike the Great 8, the Sharks Great 8 didn’t stand in one spot and wait for the puck to come his way. Little Joe did find his own special soft zone of coverage, but he had to work his way into that area as the play progressed. Watch as Pavelski recognizes the opening and uses his quick release to blow one by the goaltender.
Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton also generated the most shots per 60 while on the man advantage. The Sharks power play unit peppered opponents with about 70 shots per 60 while Joe Pavelski was on the ice. That was tops in the league.
Not Prey on Defense
Forwards are an important part of the defensive gameplan. Dropping back and defending prevents odd man rushes and wide open looks at goal. Pavelski has been the Sharks best defensive forward. He doesn’t allow goals either. While shorthanded, Pavelski led the team in goals against per 60. This was due in part to him allowing the second fewest scoring chances and shots while killing penalties.
But it wasn’t just leadership on the penalty kill. His sacrifice showed up everywhere else too. He ranked fourth among forwards in the NHL at blocking shots. It was this kind of play that really earned his titles this season as fan favorite and player of the year.
I already gushed about Joe Pavelski earlier this season. Multiple times. However, there is still more to understand about his game. In the time that his Sharks have faltered and played terrible hockey, Pavelski has stood out. Even in dark times, when Wilson and Thornton butt heads, Pavelski stayed above it. He toed the line diplomatically as a player and employee, something a captain needs to do.
After the last home game of the season, Joe Thornton, the most recent captain of the Sharks slunked away to the shadows. Understandable considering he broke the press when he spoke last. Joe Pavelski, however, did not.
Pavelski addresses crowd after final home game. A duty Thornton had earlier as captain, of course #SJSharks
— Kevin Kurz (@KKurzCSN) April 7, 2015
While most fans are quick to defend Joe Thornton in this time of strife, it really showed the final shift in leadership. In a time where the crowd began chanting to fire its GM at some points, Joe Pavelski came forward and directly addressed his wounded fans.
No mention of internal struggle. No blame game. Just an acceptance of responsibility and apology to the fans. While the Sharks floundered, Joe Pavelski soared. His passionate speech in between periods that aired on EPIX’s Stadium Series was a microcosm of his love of the team and the game. If there was one thing that Joe Pavelski didn’t manage to achieve this year, it was infecting his teammates with his fire. If he had, perhaps the Sharks would still be playing meaningful games.