Not many things in life are perfect. The ending to the Sharks’ win in Game 2 against Nashville was one of them.
After all, if Joe Pavelski scores the game’s decisive goal with 2:40 remaining in regulation, in the first game after the Black Cat of the Tank that blessed the Sharks with “good luck” – at least that’s what some are saying – was revealed to be named “Joe Paw-velski,” what other word would you use for it?
Coincidence? Ironic? Strange?
Perhaps all of the above, although “perfect” seems to properly cover it.
Another thing that’s been nearly perfect has been Pavelski’s performance in the playoffs thus far. Six goals in seven games, tied for league’s playoff lead in goals. Ten points, having figured in on 42 percent of San Jose’s offense.
“He’s been big,” Logan Couture said of Pavelski in the moments after the team’s 3-2 win in Game 2. “That’s what the best players in the world do.”
Those who regularly watch the Sharks have long considered Pavelski, in his first season as team captain, one of the best players in the world. And dating back to his rookie season in 2006-07, the league as a whole has largely acknowledged him as a potent force, with his selection to the U.S. Olympic team in 2010 a helpful reminder that he was considered All-Star caliber, even six years ago.
But seeing Pavelski tied with John Tavares of the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov for the league lead in playoff goals begs the question: Does Pavelski get enough credit?
As strange as it sounds for a player that’s been in the limelight as one of the team’s leaders for 6-7 years, there seems to be data to suggest that Pavelski is still underrated. Part of this may be due to the fact that he seems to be getting better with age, where when most players peak in their mid-20s, Pavelski didn’t really seem to hit his prime until he turned 30.
So while a sizable portion of the league – especially the portion that doesn’t stay up for west coast games – remembers Pavelski as a “good” player in his mid-20s, there might not be full appreciation for what he’s accomplished entering his 30s.
His goal totals the past three seasons: 41, 37, 38. Pavelski’s total of 116 goals during this stretch is only eclipsed by one player in the entire league…Alexander Oveckin.
He is only one of nine players in the entire NHL to score over 100 goals over the past three seasons.
While this list is filled with award-winners and MVP candidates, there sits Pavelski. Universally accepted as a good player, but never really in the discussion for major hardware.
Is there more to the game than goals? Sure. Does it help that he has Joe Thornton as his center feeding him beautiful passes all season? Of course.
But the level that Pavelski’s game has grown, when all conventional wisdom suggests that his game should be dropping off, is remarkable.
Turning 32 this summer, Pavelski was selected 205th overall in the 2003 NHL Draft, widely considered the deepest draft in NHL history.
Since Pavelski hit his “prime” three seasons ago, you could make a strong argument that he’s been the best player of his draft class. Although by splitting the data to “since Pavelski hit his prime” and “before Pavelski hit his prime,” it’s easier to understand why he’s been typecast as something other than a superstar, with players his age from the 2003 Draft as comparables.
In esteemed company among that draft class’s highest goal scorers, but not in the true superstar category.
As the Dustin Browns, Eric Staals, Vaneks and Richards have fallen off the map, Pavelski moved past the entire field, including even Corey Perry. In fact, seventh-round pick Pavelski has more goals the past three years than first-round picks Eric Staal, Dustin Brown and Mike Richards, combined.
“I think he’s a better person than a hockey player,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said of Pavelski. “That’s probably the biggest thing. This guy stands for all the right things. He’s a family man. He’s a professional. He shows up to work early. He stays late. All he cares about is winning. There’s not a selfish bone in his body, as far as his own personal numbers or agenda. It’s all about winning.”
DeBoer’s sentiments that Pavelski’s more about winning than his own personal agenda are all well and good.
But for now, Pavelski’s personal success and the team’s win-loss record are inexorably linked, with one leading to the other.
That this is happening for Pavelski in his first season as captain, is it a coincidence? Is it ironic, or is it strange?
But so far, it’s also been perfect.