Joe Pavelski is keeping some heady company these days.

His attention-getting 18 goals in the past 20 games has vaulted him into the NHL's upper echelon as only one player -- Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin -- has more goals than the 27 that Pavelski has notched.

The Sharks forward already was on a mini-roll with four goals in four games when Sharks coach Todd McLellan began juggling his top two lines after Tomas Hertl's knee injury Dec. 19. One of those moves elevated Pavelski alongside Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, a top line that has remained intact the past 15 games.

The fact that Thornton is the NHL assists leader with 47 helps account for Pavelski's tear, which includes six goals in his past three games and his first career hat trick. But he is quick to include both linemates in explaining his recent success as a "combination of a whole lot of things."

"They're such high-end players," Pavelski said of his current linemates. "I feel like I'm always open, right? And they've been able to deliver the puck."

It's not as if Pavelski, 29, had been hiding in the shadows. After all, he is a two-time Olympian who will represent the United States in Sochi next month. But on a Sharks team with veteran leaders such as Thornton and Patrick Marleau in their mid-30s, or younger standouts such as Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Pavelski can be the overlooked man in the middle.

But not these days.

Pavelski, who had a career-best 31 goals in 2011-12 and is on pace for 44, doesn't think he is doing too much differently on this run. Ten of Pavelski's goals have come on the power play, 17 at even strength. On many, he was stationed close to the crease and found the open spot for a quick shot or tip-in.

"I'm trying to make a few better reads, a few better plays and at times, hitting the puck a little cleaner," he said.

Is his overall game getting better?

"Getting older," he said, "it better be better."

Since the Sharks "refresh and reset" makeover last spring, McLellan had preferred to use Pavelski as a third-line center, creating problems for other teams that can get burned by San Jose's depth. But Pavelski's current success -- as well as that of the team, which is 13-6-1 over those 20 games despite the rash of injuries -- has the coach rethinking that strategy.