SAN JOSE — Paul Martin and Sharks teammates Joel Ward and Melker Karlsson were not supposed to be tied for the team lead in goals at this point. The same can be said for Zack Kassian and the Edmonton Oilers.
But Norris Trophy favorite Brent Burns has no points in three games. Joe Pavelski has one assist. Both points for Connor McDavid, the Hart Trophy favorite, have come on special teams.
The Sharks and Oilers have done an admirable job of clamping down on the other team’s top players in the initial stages of their series, which has fewer goals per game than any other first-round matchup.
But with the Oilers having a 2-1 series lead, the Sharks clearly need to find a way to get their top offensive stars going in Game 4, or risk having Tuesday’s game be their last at SAP Center this season. Game 5 of the best-of-seven series is Thursday in Edmonton.
“There’s not a lot of space out there, both ways,” Pavelski said. “It’s just about getting inside, winning a one-on-one battle. And when we get our chances, you’ve got to stick it in the net.
“That was probably the difference (Sunday) night and it probably will be going forward.”
That’s what happened in Game 3, as Kassian stepped in front of David Schlemko’s pass deep in the Sharks’ zone and beat goalie Martin Jones between the pads for his second straight game-winning goal.
Before that, the Sharks’ offensive struggles were on full display. They created a handful of chances in the first period but managed only 10 shots on goal in the second and third periods. The power play continued to fizzle.
Burns, Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, who combined for 85 goals in the regular season, have zero in three games against the Oilers.
While McDavid, Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl are also struggling to consistently produce offense, Edmonton has been getting timely contributions from players such as Kassian to pull out close wins.
“I’m sure (McDavid’s) a primary focus, Pavelski, Burns … those guys are a focal point for offensive production,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said Monday.
“When there’s not that many goals scored and it’s tight checking, the numbers aren’t going to be what they normally are and everybody’s going to go, ‘Oh they’re not producing.’ That’s not the case. It’s two teams playing tight defensively.”
While open ice and quality chances are harder to come by in the playoffs, the Sharks know their top-end talent can come through in the postseason.
Pavelski had three goals and an assist in the first three games of their first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings in 2016. Burns had a goal and two assists. Four other players had two points.
“As someone who expects to score, you don’t want to give too much credit to (the Oilers),” Pavelski said. “There’s always a way you can be a little better. A little execution at times. A little (more) desperate. When you get your look, you’ve got to make it count.”
Pavelski has one goal in his last 14 games since March 16 in the regular season. Burns has two in his last 26 games. Marleau, who played center for the first two games of the series, has one in his past 10.
“You’ve just to work for those bounces, stay positive,” Burns said, “and pray to the hockey gods, I guess.”
If those three aren’t producing, it’s incumbent on others to make a difference. So far this series, it’s been a grind.
“This time of year you have to be prepared and you have to be comfortable playing in 1-0, 2-1 games,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said. “The teams that win and the teams that go on runs, are.”
It hasn’t helped that the Sharks have fallen behind in all three games, continuing a problem that cropped up in mid-March. The only time the Sharks held a lead in the series was when Karlsson scored in overtime for the Sharks in their 3-2 win in Game 1.
Pavelski gave credit to Oilers goalie Cam Talbot, who has a .964 save percentage through three games. But Pavelski also said the Sharks could do more to disrupt Talbot’s timing.
“He gives that team a little confidence, but we haven’t tested him enough,” Pavelski said of Talbot. “I think he’s a goalie that we can get to if we can get an extra look or two, and get one early.
“I don’t know why we can’t get to him. We’ve got to score first in one of these games, too. It’s much easier playing with the lead.”