SAN JOSE – The Sharks only play the Penguins twice a season. But they are well aware of how tough the Eastern Conference contingent can be.
"We've played a lot of good teams lately, and these guys coming into town, they're playing as good as anyone right now," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said after Tuesday's morning skate ahead of Team Teal's first contest of the season against Pittsburgh.
Much like the Sharks, the Pens had an uneven start to their 2018-19 campaign, winding their way through a couple losing skids and only tallying four wins in the month of November. They've since turned things around, however, and had an eight-game winning streak going before they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks on January 6.
"I think when you've had the deep runs they've had, I think it's natural that you have some lulls in the regular season," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "But you can see they're starting to pick it up and find another level."
The Pens enter Tuesday's contest with a 7-2-1 record against Pacific Division teams this season, using depth scoring and elite special teams play to find success. San Jose is going to have to play a disciplined game if they want to keep Pittsburgh from running away with the game, Pavelski said.
"When they're playing well, they can beat you in a lot of different ways," the captain summarized. "It's a game we've got to be ready for. We've had a couple days off so (we'll) get back out there early and re-establish what we were doing."
"They're starting to put it together and it's a great test for us," DeBoer said.
Big night for Jumbo
Speaking of Joe Pavelski, his linemate Joe Thornton will be skating in his 1,000th game as a member of the Sharks on Tuesday night.
"I'm sure he'll say it's another game," Pavelski said with a smile. "But obviously it's a great accomplishment."
A great accomplishment indeed, given the ups and downs Thornton has had health-wise over the last couple of seasons. The magnitude of his accomplishments isn't lost on the rest of the team.
"It's amazing, his career," DeBoer reflected. "First ballot Hall of Famer. Still playing at a really high level. His greatness is in what he does for other players, how good he makes other people around him. That's a rare thing."
One of those special players is 26-year-old Marcus Sorensen, who has spent a good chunk of his breakout 2018-19 season on Thornton's wing. Sorensen, who just signed a two-year contract extension with San Jose, expressed how happy he was to get to play on a line with the seasoned veteran.
"I play with one of the best players in the world," Sorensen said. "I'm honored to play with him and Pavs right now. Love playing with those guys. It's so easy to play with them."
Tuesday's game is just one of Thornton's milestones Sorensen has been part of. The Swedish winger also set Thornton up for his 400th career goal earlier this season.
"It's special," Sorensen said. "I was here when he played his 1,500th (NHL) game. I was able to pass (to) him for his 400th goal. I'm going to keep those memories for my whole life."