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Pavelski still adjusting, seeking comfort zone with Stars

Forward has one point in four games after spending past 13 seasons with Sharks

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Joe Pavelski isn't there yet, but slowly he can feel it coming.

After the Dallas Stars forward spent the first 13 seasons of his NHL career with the San Jose Sharks, including the past four as their captain, it's understandable that he needs more than four games to get comfortable in his new surroundings.

No doubt, the Stars rallying for a 4-3 overtime victory at the Washington Capitals on Tuesday and earning their first win of the season following a 0-3-0 start will help that process.

"There's definitely some things you're getting used to; finding certain routines and just getting used to the day-to-day," Pavelski said. "But it's good. It's good to get the season going: travel a little bit, spend some time on the road and just try to keep building every day."

The next chance for Pavelski to do that will come when the Stars return home from a three-game road trip to face the Calgary Flames at American Airlines Center on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET; SN360, FS-SW, NHL.TV).

Maybe it was partly because of his unfamiliar No. 16 jersey (No. 8, which he wore with the Sharks, was retired by the Stars/Minnesota North Stars franchise in 1992 to honor Bill Goldsworthy), but Pavelski looked out of place while also appearing out of sync at times Tuesday skating at right wing on the second line with Mattias Janmark and center Roope Hintz.

Since the start of training camp, Stars coach Jim Montgomery has tried Pavelski at all three forward positions while searching for the best fit. Pavelski got an assist in Dallas' season-opening 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Oct. 3 but has been held pointless in three games since then and did not register a shot on goal in 14:33 of ice time against the Capitals.

"You're trying to find continuity, but we haven't had success, so it's hard to stick with things," Montgomery said. "But I really like their line right now. I think if you look at Joe Pavelski's career, he's always done well playing with a real smart, puck possession guy like a Joe Thornton. So, Roope Hintz and Janmark are both really good possession guys that can hang onto pucks, and Joe's so smart he fills in the holes."

The Stars signed Pavelski to a three-year, $21 million contract (average annual value $7 million) as an unrestricted free agent on July 1 to help boost an offense that tied for 28th in the NHL with 209 goals last season. The 35-year-old led the Sharks with 38 goals last season, the fifth time in the past eight seasons he scored at least 30.

"I think he's like the rest of us," said center Tyler Seguin, who scored the overtime winner Tuesday. "You know when he gets one good break, I think he's going to feel even better. Off the ice and on the ice, he's been great for us and he's going to be huge for us down the road."

Some of it for Pavelski has been learning the Stars system, which he said is different from the Sharks.

"There's a lot of simple adjustments," he said. "But the main thing with that is make sure you're going hard, make sure you're working, battling. You win a one-on-one battle, some of those things just kind of take care of themselves naturally."

One area where Pavelski looked natural Tuesday was battling for position in front of the net when the Stars were on the power play. Dallas' defensemen haven't found a way yet to get point shots close enough to Pavelski for him to utilize his skill at deflecting pucks, but when they do -- and he gets more comfortable reading what they're doing -- that will help the power play, which went 0-for-10 in the first four games.

Eventually it will all become second nature to Pavelski and allow him to rely on the scoring instincts that served him so well with San Jose.

"That's the goal," Pavelski said. "I'm sure I'm caught a little bit. It's not completely natural. But it's at a good spot where I feel it's right there, right around the corner."

Montgomery also envisions Pavelski becoming a significant part of the Stars leadership group. He noticed signs of that already with the way Pavelski tried to lift spirits during a 4-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

"Joe's smart," Montgomery said. "He knows he's got to get to know the room and everything, but [Sunday] when we fell down 3-2, he was walking along the bench saying, 'We're fine here. We're OK.' His natural leadership skills he has in abundance and we're going to encourage him to do as much as he wants, and I know that our captains are also encouraging him."

Pavelski's arrival along with the signing of longtime Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry, who has yet to play because of a fractured left foot, raised expectations for the Stars after they went 43-32-7 last season and took the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues to double overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round. But much like Pavelski, the Stars have been searching for their identity through their first four games.

With a long season ahead, they're trying to focus on the big picture while hoping their comeback from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to defeat Washington will put them on the right path, and Pavelski will follow.

"In the grand scheme of things, you want the big picture, but right now, we've got to zone in a little bit," Pavelski said. "We've got to get going."

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