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Why is Joe Pavelski So Darn Good?

by Dan Marrazza / San Jose Sharks

It’s becoming so expected that maybe we should stop unexpecting it.

That the Sharks erased a 3-2 deficit late in the second period of Game 5 of in St. Louis and won 6-3? With this Sharks team, not ‘that’ surprising.

That Joe Pavelski added another two goals in San Jose’s victory, and now leads all playoff scorers in both goals (12) and points (21) and set a new franchise record for goals in one playoff year? Once again, maybe not something you would’ve bet on, but not something too stunning given the level Pavelski’s played at all season.

Perhaps more surprising is not that Pavelski scored another two goals – the game-tying and game-winning goals – to win another game for the Sharks, but that it seems to be the same player striking the decisive blow in almost every game San Jose wins.

Like, does this guy’s luck ever run out? Pavelski AGAIN?

How does a player who rarely receives true superstar acknowledgement around the league, who’s not very big, not very strong and not very fast (or so some say), dominating these games seemingly every night, while his supposedly more talented adversaries remain inconsequential?

Pavelski Head-To-Head With Opposing Superstars, 2016 Playoffs

Sharks vs. Kings
  Goals Assists Points Game-Winning Goals
Pavelski 5 1 6 1
Kopitar 2 2 4 0
Carter 2 0 2 0
         
Sharks vs. Predators
  Goals Assists Points Game-Winning Goals
Pavelski 4 3 7 2
Johansen 3 2 5 0
Forsberg 1 0 1 0
         
Sharks vs. Blues (Through Game 5)
  Goals Assists Points Game-Winning Goals
Pavelski 3 5 8 1
Tarasenko 0 0 0 0
Backes 1 1 2 0

Earlier in the playoffs, we investigated how Joel Ward became so darn clutch and found out that it originated in his early years as a roller hockey ringer-for-hire.

Trying to find a similar explanation for how Joe Pavelski, a seemingly ordinary player who delivers extraordinary results, arrives in the league as an afterthought, keeps flying below the radar despite being a superstar, and keeps finding a way to score all the most important goals in a playoff run, our search led us to Wisconsin (where else?).

Although it was actually rural Minnesota, where Mike Eaves, the man who recruited and coached Pavelski at the University of Wisconsin, has been staying in a remote cabin, still tuned in to the Western Conference Final.

“I think it’s his six inches between Joe’s ears,” Eaves told sjsharks.com. “Like Joe, yeah, he’s not the biggest or fastest and I think he’d even acknowledge that. But his hockey IQ is really high and it continues to get better because the way he watches the game and sees what other players do. It’s really the six inches between his ears that add to his natural skill level. This has allowed him to keep getting better as the years have gone by.”

If Pavelski’s intelligence is what’s transformed him from seventh-round pick 13 years ago to having a realistic chance to become the first American to ever captain a Stanley Cup-winner and win a Conn Smythe Trophy (five more games like Game 5 and this would happen) in the same year, the next question would be how he became so smart.

Eaves also opined on this subject.

“Joe’s a good listener,” Eaves said. “One thing I’d bet you, a dime to the dollar, is that when Joe watches games and sees a Pavel Datsyuk do something, Joe’s going to say: ‘I’ve got to remember that and try that in practice next time.’ He picks up stuff. He learns by watching. That’s his way. He’s astute enough to see things and try them on their own. Even talking to older guys, older guys would probably talk to him and say: ‘Joe, the next time you’re in that situation, try this.’ And Joe would remember and actually work at it. That astuteness of him helps him get better.

“Joe’s even one of those guys that after he left us, he’d call back, and he’d ask: ‘Coach, are you reading any good books now?’ Like good sports books, sports psychology. Leadership stuff. And I’d tell him: ‘Sacred Hoops,’ Phil Jackson’s book. And he’d read it."

“He was always looking for an edge. I truly believe that’s one of the reasons he’s continued to improve and get better as his pro career has gone on. It’s the six inches between his ears.”

If Pavelski’s always been looking for an edge, it’s safe to say he’s found it right now.

And although some most wouldn’t have expected this team, with this history, being led to within a single win of the Stanley Cup Final by this player this season, perhaps they should’ve expected the unexpected.

Or at least stop being so surprised when Joe Pavelski plays the role of hero… again.

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