SAN JOSE -- Three rounds into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski was the leading candidate to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player.
Three games into the Stanley Cup Final, Pavelski doesn't have a point, and the Sharks face a 2-1 series deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins entering Game 4 at SAP Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
Pavelski hasn't gone three games without a point since January. Obviously he's choking. Obviously he can't handle the pressure of the Sharks' first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in their 25-year history, failing to come through when it matters most. Obviously …
That's sarcasm. That's not the case at all.
"He's a guy that just needs to keep swinging the bat," teammate Tommy Wingels said Sunday. "You talk about a .333 hitter. Does he hit 1-for-3 every game? No. Joe's a guy that might not score for a game or two, and then he'll pop two or three one day."
First, a little perspective. Despite Pavelski's mini-drought, he still leads the playoffs in goals with 13, two more than anyone else, three more than any Penguin. He's still tied with teammate Brent Burns for second in points with 22, three more than any Penguin.
He's still playing well. In each game of this series, the Sharks have had more shot attempts than the Penguins have had when Pavelski has been on the ice at even strength: 54.76 percent in Game 1, 58.97 percent in Game 2, 54.55 percent in Game 3. In other words, they have had the puck more often.
He isn't alone, either. This happens to stars in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby went three games without a point in the second round against the Washington Capitals. Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who won the Conn Smythe in 2009, doesn't have a point in this series and has one goal in his past 15 games.
"You get asked the same thing about Malkin and some of the guys on their end," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "It's tough this time of year. Every round, he's getting a lot of attention, just like [Sharks defenseman] Brent Burns is getting a lot of attention, just like [Sharks center Joe Thornton] is getting a lot of attention. That's not an easy role to play.
"I have no doubt he's going to break through here. He has all year for us. It's just a matter of time."
One problem: the power play. The Sharks averaged 3.5 power plays per game over the first three rounds, and Pavelski scored five of his goals and nine of his points with the man advantage. The Sharks have averaged two power plays per game over the first three games of this series. Fewer power plays leads to fewer scoring chances.
Another problem: blocked shots. Pavelski is one of the best in the League at deflecting the puck in front of the net, whether on the power play or at even strength. He has developed excellent chemistry with Burns in particular. Well aware of that, the Penguins have concentrated on blocking shots. They blocked 38 shots in Game 3, 12 by Burns alone. If the puck doesn't get to Pavelski, he can't deflect it, can he?
The Penguins have blocked only four of Pavelski's shots, but the way they have filled the lanes has dissuaded him from shooting. He has only four shots on goal in the series. He's averaging 1.3 shots on goal per game after averaging 3.3 shots on goal per game over the first three rounds.
"I think they've done a good job, I think," Pavelski said. "I've passed on a few shots recently that maybe I haven't earlier, so get back to the shooting mindset a little bit. There's been a lot of plays where it's been almost there, and they get a stick on it. Not worried about that, because we're creating some chances and it's just that end result hasn't been there."
Pavelski shows no signs of frustration. As captain, he has set the tone all season that the Sharks have to stick to their game. He came into the dressing room after they were outskated badly, outscored 2-0 and outshot 15-4 in the first period of Game 1 and said, "That's not us. That's not our game." He came in after they fell behind 2-1 in the second period of Game 3 despite outplaying the Penguins and reassured everyone they would be fine if they stayed the course.
"He's very calm in all situations," Wingels said.
So expect him to stay calm in this one.
"There's not a lot of space out there at times, and the game's being played fast," Pavelski said. "The goalies have been playing well. So you keep working and keep looking for your spots and your chances, and you've got to stay around the net. You've got to keep firing it. Those chances will eventually come."
by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist