We almost certainly over-estimate the importance of leadership in the NHL. At best we give far too much leadership credit based on on-ice performance and at worst we know next to nothing about what an NHL player wants or doesn't want out of a captain.
So when I say Joe Pavelski leads by example, I'm not talking about his work ethic or his fantastic pre-game speeches. Pavelski dominates on the ice, both making the Sharks a better team as a whole and taking pressure off his teammates by soaking up the toughest competition St. Louis offers.
Of course he did all that before sewing the C to his chest and likely would have continued to do that had the Sharks gone captain-less in 2016. Instead of praising the nebulous leadership qualities that I don't know a damn thing about, let's instead praise what makes Pavelski such a special player: Namely, everything.
Pavelski scored twice against the Blues on Monday night to put the Sharks just a game away from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. His 21 points tie him with Logan Couture atop the NHL playoff leaderboard and further increases his franchise record for points in a single postseason. Pavelski also holds the franchise record for goals in a postseason while Couture tied Joe Thornton's 2010-11 record 14 assists in one playoff season.
Thanks in part to excellent work on the power play, Pavelski notched a +12 corsi differential in all strengths while posting a +2 at even strength. While Pavelski's special teams play makes him elite, he managed to score both of his goals at even strength on Monday. His second couldn't have come at a bigger moment.
For most players, this is a lucky break. Not so much for Pavelski whose hand-eye coordination ranks among the best in the NHL. This one came as many of his goals do. He finds a soft spot in the front of the Blues net and slides by Jake Allen while deftly nicking the puck into the back of the net.
His first goal was almost equally as Pavelskian. The captain took advantage of a beautiful Joe Thornton feed to tie the game at three apiece late in the second period.
The Blues make a big mistake here by committing all four players below the dots with both Pavelski and Brent Burns unguarded further up the ice. Take a look at the screenshot below.
In this picture we've got three Sharks, four Blues and not a Pavelski or Burns in sight. Thornton can be seen far away from the action, waiting for the puck to come his way.
Hey guys, I found Pavelski. Thornton has the puck and now it is far too late for the Blues to react. Jumbo throws the puck to the captain and Pavelski buries it to tie the game for the final time.
Pavelski and Thornton's skillsets compliment each other perfectly. Thornton is one of the best passers of his generation while Pavelski is an amazing goal scorer. When they team up, whether it be at even strength or on the power play, they're nearly unstoppable.
Pavelski's 21 points move him into a tie for 30th place in a single postseason since 2005-06 and fourth by an American. I don't know what kind of a leader Pavelski is at morning skates and in the locker room, but Captain America is leading where his team needs it most — on the ice.