Joe Pavelski capped off a monster road trip that left no doubt that he is the leader of the San Jose Sharks. He punctuated it by scoring the game-tying and game-winning goals in victory over the Pacific Division-rival Los Angeles Kings Tuesday, Dec. 23.
Pavelski was the easy choice to lead the pictured stars of the game like he was an easy choice to lead the Sharks themselves. With the 2015-16 NHL season being his first as captain, he leads the team in goals and assists, faceoff wins and percentage while leading forwards in shots on goal, blocked shots and minutes. He is only third on the team in hits and takeaways.
Pavelski finished with five goals and five assists in the five games of the second-longest road trip on the 2015-16 NHL season. Thanks to a weak Pacific Division, San Jose goes into his first Christmas as captain in second place.
Had he not scored those goals, the Sharks head into the break on a three-game losing streak. Instead, they end the road trip 3-1-1.
San Jose also avoids a loss to the team it choked away a 3-0 series lead in the 2014 Pacific Division semifinals. That victory propelled Los Angeles to a Stanley Cup title.
Without Joel Ward again and Logan Couture still, the Sharks battled their way back from a terrible first period that saw them get out-shot 21-6. After giving up a goal to Tyler Toffoli 100 seconds into the game, they have trailed before the first television timeout an astounding 15 times in 34 games this 2015-16 NHL season.
Under three minutes had passed before the Kings extended the lead. Their captain Dustin Brown threw the puck toward the crease and Trevor Lewis tipped it in to go up two goals.
It took almost eight minutes for San Jose to answer: Brenden Dillon sent a puck toward the net that Pavelski appeared to tip in, but video clearly showed Thornton also redirected it afterwards. The game was played about evenly after the first, but Tanner Pearson again connected with Toffoli on an odd-man rush to extend the lead to 3-1 with 2:12 left in the second period.
Less than a minute later, Joonas Donskoi won a puck battle behind the net and got it to Thornton. The play-making great tied Alex Delvecchio with his 1281st point when he fed Brent Burns for a shot through a Dainius Zubrus screen and past Jonathan Quick to get the Sharks back within one.
Pavelski took over in the third period. Four seconds after former San Jose teammate Christian Ehrhoff was sent to the box, the captain had deflected another Burns shot past Quick to tie the game.
New Los Angeles forward Milan Lucic went to the box 35 seconds later, and this time it took 57 seconds for the power play to score: Thornton passed Delvecchio when he got hold of the puck behind the net and fed Pavelski, who scooped it up and lifted it to the top shelf before Quick could react.
Burns got the empty-net goal with 70 seconds when the Kings gave him too much time to gather and aim from his own end. The win closed the gap between the teams in the Pacific Division to 3.5 games.
When the final horn sounded, the Sharks had a rare win when losing almost every event summary statistic: 30-38 faceoffs, 1-4 takeaways, 25-27 hits, 23-36 shots, 41-69 attempts and only a 7-9 advantage on giveaways. Even their 12-7 edge in blocks was modest considering the extra time spent defending.
However, San Jose has now taken care of two of the three games with Pacific Division-rival Los Angeles in the 2015-16 NHL season. More importantly is getting on the right track, as the rest of the field stands 1.5 to 2.5 games back.