DENVER – The Colorado Avalanche still can’t stop Joe Pavelski.
After helping San Jose knock out the Avalanche in a first-round playoff series last season, Pavelski scored two power-plays goals to lead the Sharks to a 4-2 win Thursday night.
“Pavelski, for whatever reason, has Colorado’s number, which is fine by us,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said.
Scott Nichol had a goal, and Logan Couture added an empty-netter for the Sharks, who won for the first time this season on North American ice. San Jose had gone three games without a victory since opening the season with a victory in Stockholm, Sweden.
Not that the Sharks were gripping the sticks extra tight because of the skid. The streak wasn’t as much of a concern as cleaning up their play.
“We’ve been saying that if we’re mentally engaged, we win hockey games,” Thornton said. “I think we were tonight. Right from the first faceoff, we executed great.”
Kyle Cumiskey and Milan Hejduk scored for the Avalanche, who returned home following a 10-day road swing in which they finished 3-2.
Antero Niittymaki was solid all night for San Jose, stopping 29 shots as he filled in for fellow Finnish goalie Antti Niemi. The performance might have earned Niittymaki more playing time, especially with Niemi off to a rocky start.
Niemi, who helped the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup title last season, has surrendered nine goals in two starts.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan didn’t tip his hand, though. He said he hasn’t decided who will start Saturday night at Edmonton.
“Got to look and see how everyone’s feeling,” McLellan said.
The power play for the Sharks clicked, especially the Pavelski line. Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau had assists on both of Pavelski’s goals, his first two of the season.
One came on a 5-on-3 advantage with Kevin Porter and T.J. Galiardi in the penalty box. The Avalanche killed off the second half, keeping it a 3-1 game.
Hejduk cut the lead to a goal during a power play early in the third period. John-Michael Liles had an assist on the play, giving him at least one in all seven games, a franchise record to start a season.
That was little consolation.
“It’s unfortunate that we lost,” Liles said. “We put ourselves in a bad position to start by taking penalties.”
The Sharks iced the game on Couture’s goal from the centre line as goalie Craig Anderson sat on the bench with 1:12 remaining. Just before Couture’s shot, the puck struck either a linesman or a player on the San Jose bench, drawing the ire of the Avalanche.
“At the end of the game, what can you say? It’s unfortunate it ends like that, but it’s going to happen,” Liles said.
McLellan wasn’t sure what happened on the play, but said he didn’t see the puck hit any of his players.
“I don’t know if it hit the mesh or what happened, but there was obviously some concern,” McLellan said.
Anderson turned back 30 shots with one sprawling save after another. He did the same thing throughout a hotly contested playoff series last spring that the Sharks won in six games.
Pavelski was the star of that series, scoring five goals, including the clincher.
He picked up Thursday where he left off.
“Maybe it’s the lighting. I don’t think it’s the altitude,” Pavelski said. “The only thing the altitude does for us is it makes us keep it a little simpler with shorter shifts. We definitely had more energy.”
Colorado went with seven defencemen, but lost 39-year-old captain Adam Foote to a head injury after the first period. It wasn’t clear how Foote was hurt. He will be re-evaluated Friday.
About the only mistake Niittymaki made the entire night was when he attempted to play a bouncing puck behind the net in the opening period, setting up Cumiskey’s goal on a slap shot.
“Considering it was only my second start, I felt pretty good,” Niittymaki said. “The best so far this year.”
Notes: Colorado F Brandon Yip was back after missing two games because of a groin injury. … Avalanche RW David Jones sat out with a bruised forearm. … Colorado recalled F David Van Der Gulik from Lake Erie of the AHL. Van Der Gulik didn’t play. … Sharks LW John McCarthy had his first NHL assist. … Colorado’s Chris Stewart had two assists, posting his second straight multi-point game.