NASHVILLE – Joe Pavelski has hit the 20-goal mark three times in his first five NHL seasons, but has never tallied more than 25 in a single season. With six goals in seven games to start 2011-12, the 27-year-old could be poised for a breakout year.
Pavelski scored the game-winner for San Jose on Tuesday and added an empty-netter to lead the Sharks to a 3-1 victory against Nashville at Bridgestone Arena.
As the right wing on a line centered by Joe Thornton and with Patrick Marleau on the left, Pavelski is going to get his share of scoring opportunities. For now, he's making the most of them.
Fifty-seven seconds after Nashville tied the game at 1-1, Pavelski scored at 14:09 of the third period on what he called "just kind of an effort play, a broken play." Pavelski took a pass from Thornton, skated out from behind the net and put a backhander past goalie Pekka Rinne. Pavelski added an empty-net goal with 1:12 left.
"When we held onto the pucks down low, our big bodies were able to make plays," Pavelski said.
Pavelski stands only 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, but Thornton is one of the biggest centers in the League at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds and Marleau is 6-2, 220.
Despite all of the early goals, Pavelski said he's not concerning himself with statistics.
"It's a good number, but it doesn't mean anything right now," he said of his early-season offensive outburst. "We got the win tonight. I was able to get a couple of goals. When you suit up for the next game, the number of goals you have don't matter. It's about production and in the moment and not getting ahead of yourself. Hopefully, I'll keep getting chances and just keep building."
The Sharks are 3-0-0 at the midpoint of a six-game road trip, their second-longest of the season, and coach Todd McLellan was especially satisfied since the team had lost three straight before it came East. McLellan was looking forward to Friday's meeting at Detroit, the Sharks' perennial playoff rival.
"Well, it is, considering the way we left San Jose," McLellan said of the promising start to the trip. "We had some good games, but we didn't put any points in the bank. Nobody panicked, we stuck with the plan and we've had some tough buildings on this trip so far against some very good teams and found some ways to win, but it only gets tougher as we move on and we didn't leave San Jose to just win three games.
"We want to keep going and we know we're going to play a pretty good team in red and white down the road here on Friday."
After starting the season 2-0-0, Nashville has won just once in its last six (1-4-1) and the Predators have scored just five goals in their last four games. Rookie Craig Smith earned his team-leading third goal of the season to tie the game, scoring during a scrum in front of the net, as the Predators connected for the first time on their fourth power play. Smith had six of Nashville's 20 shots.
In the first period, Colin Wilson's blind pass from behind the Sharks' net up the left wing boards led to Logan Couture's shorthanded goal. Martin Havlat and Couture worked a 2-on-2 on the breakout and Rinne stopped Havlat's initial long shot but gave up the rebound and Couture was free on the doorstep to put it in at 14:21.
Couture said the 2-on-2 is something the Sharks practice all the time.
"I was able to get behind their (defenseman) and Rinne usually doesn't leave those rebounds like that," Couture said. "I had to capitalize on it."
Couture said when one player drives the net and the other one cuts, it's hard for the defenseman to read. Nashville coach Barry Trotz called it a pick play and seemed perturbed that one of his defensemen -- either Jon Blum or Kevin Klein -- misplayed the situation.
"Our defenseman let him go right to the net," Trotz said. "That's on our defenseman there."
The game featured the team averaging the fewest shots in the League per game, Nashville at 22.1, against the team leading the NHL in shots per game, San Jose at 38.8 -- and both trends pretty much held to form. Nashville was outshot 17-7 in the opening period and 27-12 through 40 minutes. The final tally was 36-20 for San Jose.
Despite the Predators' struggles, Trotz was calm after the game, saying he thought his team took "steps in the right direction."
On Tuesday, Nashville got veterans Mike Fisher (an assist in 19:30 of time on ice) and defenseman Francis Bouillon (17:32) back in the lineup for the first time this season. Trotz said he thought they helped to stabilize a very young team and would continue to do so going forward.