SAN JOSE -- Joe Pavelski emerged as the San Jose Sharks biggest offensive weapon last season when he led them and set career highs with 41 goals and 79 points.
Pavelski is leading by example again this season. His 32 goals and 61 points lead the Sharks, and he's also become their strongest voice in the locker room as one of four alternate captains along with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Coach Todd McLellan said Pavelski, 30 and in his ninth NHL season, all with San Jose, has embraced his leadership role.
"Probably he more than anybody else has stepped to the forefront and accepted that responsibility," McLellan said. "He's been good through the times when things have gone well and he seems to be doing the right things right now when it's not going so well. He has stepped up."
Pavelski's leadership skills will be put to a tough test down the stretch with the Sharks fighting for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 16 games remaining. Entering their game Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at SAP Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1), the Sharks are six points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the second Western Conference wild-card spot.
After their historic collapse against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference First Round last year, Thornton was stripped of his captaincy and Marleau his role as alternate captain during a tumultuous offseason.
The Sharks still don't have a captain, but Pavelski, Thornton, Marleau and Vlasic were named alternates at the end of training camp.
San Jose general manager Doug Wilson and McLellan tried to create an environment in which younger players could emerge as leaders; Pavelski, for one, has responded.
"He's been more vocal this year definitely," Sharks forward Matt Nieto said. "I think people saw that in the EPIX series ["Road to the Stadium Series"]. He knows the right times when to speak up. It's been great. We need someone that can do that, and he's been the guy. He says the right things, he gets the guys' heads in the right direction and he leads by example out there. That's probably the biggest thing."
In the weeks leading up to the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, the EPIX cameras followed each team, getting behind-the-scenes access. Pavelski played a prominent role in the third episode.
San Jose had lost three straight games and trailed the Arizona Coyotes 2-0 after the first period in its Feb. 13 game at Gila River Arena. In the Sharks locker room, Pavelski stood up and delivered an impassioned, obscenity-laced speech, reminding his teammates that they were fighting for their playoff lives and needed to start playing a harder, stronger game to survive.
Pavelski had a hat trick to lead the Sharks to a 4-2 victory.
"There were multiple people that night I think that stepped their game up, verbally and on the ice," Pavelski said. "It was a big win for us at that time. We had been kind of just teetering back and forth. It was good it worked out the way it did. It was all about the two points that night."
Although McLellan said other Sharks responded but didn't make the episode, he gave Pavelski his due credit.
"That was [Pavelski's] opportunity," McLellan said. "He took it and he seized it. But he had some good support that night."
Pavelski is having another stellar season on the ice. His 17 power-play goals are second in the NHL, and he's tied for fourth in goals (32). His plus-14 rating is second on the Sharks, one behind Vlasic, and his 64 blocked shots lead Sharks forwards.
"He'll do anything," Sharks center Logan Couture said. "He'll block shots. He scores the big goals for us. He takes key faceoffs. He's really an all-around player. When I think of leaders I think of guys that lead by example; they show it. The old saying, talk is cheap, you got to go out and prove it. [Pavelski] is one of those guys that goes out and does it night in and night out.
"You respect a guy like that because of the way that he plays. He's a good example for some of our younger players that are learning how to play in the NHL. He's a 40-goal scorer and still blocks 60 to 80 shots a season. You don't see that very often. There's only a select few in the League that are doing that. He's a leader by example."
After Pavelski's three-goal game against Arizona, McLellan said he set a great example for rookies and veterans alike.
"If I'm a young player, if I'm an old player, I'm taking a look his way," McLellan said. "What's this guy doing? How does he prepare? And I'm emulating it. If I'm not, I should be banging my head against the wall trying to figure out why not."
As he has throughout his career, Pavelski continues to deflect praise and downplay his role. He said he has raised the level of his game at times this season but has had stretches when he could have played better.
"It's a constant battle of fighting, being ready, having your energy levels up," Pavelski said. "And when you're not, still producing and finding ways. But on a nightly basis it's about trying to help each other out and doing your part and contributing as much as you can."
After playing the Penguins, the Sharks have home games against the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks, two more teams that are all but locks for the playoffs. Then the Sharks face a seven-game, 13-day road trip.
"Each game is really big right now," Pavelski said. "But with that said, if we're looking at the whole we're probably looking too far ahead and we won't get to where we need to go. So we need to really zero in one game at a time and one shift and let it all kind of take care of itself from there."
Author: Eric Gilmore | NHL.com Correspondent