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Pavelski score takes second billing to extension for Thornton, Marleau

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San Jose Sharks game

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Joe Pavelski did a rare thing in the NHL by playing Leonard Bernstein's role—having the only score for the Jets vs. the Sharks—on Thursday, January 23. Yet his act takes second billing to Pierre LeBrun's announcement via Twitter Friday.

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The San Jose Sharks have re-signed Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to three-year extensions.

It could be argued that both are playing the best hockey of their careers. Marleau is second in goals and assists but also has become a very good defensive player—something Thornton has been for a while, but never coupled with offensive production higher than a point per game like he has so far in the 2013-14 NHL season.

Nevertheless, the 34-year old top two picks in the 1997 NHL draft both took small salary cuts. Marleau will make $20 million over the three years when he made $20.7 million over the last three years of his expiring contract. Former top pick Thornton will earn $250,000 more than the second pick over the same time but $750,000 less than his last three years.

Those announcements come as the Sharks are playing some of the best hockey of the season while the supporting cast around the newly-signed forwards, Pavelski and Brent Burns is filled with understudies. The current five-game winning streak has pulled them within 3.5 games of the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the Pacific Division and the top seed in the tough Western Conference.

Anaheim beat the third-place Los Angeles Kings Thursday, dropping them 4.5 games back of San Jose. With positioning for the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs on the line, coach Todd McLellan was clear the team is not going to "waste energy on something we can't control" by watching Pacific Division rivals.

The only thing in either team's control in these games were the defensive areas in front of the net. They both got rebounds out of dangerous areas quickly and killed penalties very well.

The Jets had the edge in physical play (25-17 hits) and shot-blocking (16-11) mostly because the Sharks possessed the puck so much more (21 more faceoff wins, four more takeaways and five fewer giveaways), registering more shots (32-20) and attempts (66-45).

The Big Pavelski came into the game with 18 goals in his last 20 games. He put the only two pucks in net during San Jose's win over the only other logical cast addition in this new West Side Story rivalry between the teams that share the team names from the classic musical.

Ironically, the Winnipeg Jets fell at the hands of a Polish (the nationality of their namesake in the play) leader for the Latin-American representative in this remake. The two teams nevertheless did produce theatre worthy of the great play so long as the viewer was not hung up on scoring.

A very engaged crowd right from the start of the Canadian anthem saw San Jose grab the early momentum. However, Winnipeg finished with the last five shots after winning the last first-period faceoff with 2:27 remaining to even the shot totals at 11.

Among them was an odd-man rush that resulted in a point-blank, one-timer chance for Andrew Ladd that backup Alex Stalock aggressively turned aside because he did not think the shot could be lifted above his pads from that close—he was barely right. The Sharks made sure he faced only nine shots the rest of the game, extending his shutout streak past 200 minutes.

During that time, Stalock has faced just 51 shots—something he credited his defenders with after the game, along with back-checking and having a clear view of shot releases. Justin Braun was asked of the effective defensive approach of directing rebounds into safe areas: "(Goalies) work on that...and even the ones that trickled through we got sticks on.

Despite the shutout streak, Stalock made it clear his focus was not to make it hard for coach Todd McLellan to take him out of net: "I'm just going in to do my job. ...It's good to get the two points."

Ondrej Pavelec may have been even more impressive if Pavelski had not stayed red hot by batting a rebound of Braun's harmless backhand out of mid-air. He had a goal waived off earlier because a battle in front of the net resulted in Joe Thornton falling on the goalie. It was the second San Jose goal disallowed in the two games between the teams so far in the 2013-14 NHL season.

Pavelski admitted after the game that he has been expecting goals each game for a little while now. Thornton and McLellan both noted his exceptional hand-eye coordination and ability to be in the right place. He also had a prime first-period chance turned away by Pavelec.

In the end, Pavelski and Stalock ensured the Sharks would get the regulation win thanks to a good supporting cast.

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