Could Marleau Improve On The Third Line?

Patrick Marleau Sharks
San Jose Sharks’ winger, Patrick Marleau (Icon SMI)

An Unproductive Season

I feel like I’m beating a dead horse when I say that Patrick Marleau is struggling to put up goals for San Jose this season. In 55 games, the former goal scorer has netted just 11 goals and registered a minus-11 rating, which is the worst on the team in that category. While this can be attributed largely to an unlucky 6.7% shooting percentage, it doesn’t change that he hasn’t been as productive as the Sharks would like. Something needs to change.

(Photo courtesy of Justin Yamada/ Flikr.)
(Photo courtesy of Justin Yamada/ Flikr.)

Marleau has played much of the season on a second line that has been horribly snake-bitten this entire year. The typical line– consisting of Marleau along with Logan Couture and Matt Nieto– has scored just 34 goals despite averaging a corsi-for percentage of 53.7%. Of those 34 goals, Couture has 19 of them, earning him 56% of the tallies for that group. This line has also combined for a disappointing minus-17 rating.

San Jose’s second line has been ice-cold for nearly the entire season, with the former captain being the most notable reason. So, perhaps it is time to shake things up and drop Marleau to the third line to see if that could help his numbers. There are a lot of things that could improve for the team by putting Patty in the bottom-six.

Weaker Competition

Marleau has struggled mightily this season

Being in the top-six means being matched up against the opponent’s top lines throughout most of the game. While Marleau has done a great job shutting down teams’ best players in the past, he has failed to do so effectively this season. Things have not been clicking for the 35-year old winger both offensively and defensively so maybe putting him against weaker players will give him some confidence and help remedy the situation.

Performing against the league’s best is suffocating as there is little time to do much of anything with the puck. If Marleau began playing on San Jose’s third line, it would likely give him that extra bit of time that he needs to make the right play, whether it be effectively exiting the zone, picking a spot on the net, or making a move around a defender. The more time he has, the better the chance he has to make the other team pay. It could be the difference between him sniping the top corner of the goal or shooting the puck into the goalie’s chest.

Much Needed Rest

Marleau ranks third in games played among active players

While not Chris-Chelios-old, Marleau is getting up there in age and experience. Last week, he became the youngest player to reach the 1,300 game mark of his career. While his actual age may seem to give him a few more good years in the NHL, his number of games played places him 56th all-time in league history (Jagr, Doan, and Iginla are the only three active players ahead of him in this statistic). He has played a lot of games in a very short amount of time and is rarely out of the lineup for any reason. Hockey is a tolling game and Marleau may be starting to feel its effects.

The Aneroid native is currently second on the team in average time on ice for forwards with 14:55 per game. For comparison purposes, James Sheppard– who has played almost exclusively on the third line this season– averages just 12:56 per contest. By moving Marleau down the depth chart, Todd McLellan can erase almost two minutes of playing time per game from the aging winger. While this may not sound like much, it is definitely enough to make a difference, especially when done over the course of the season.

Improved Second and Third Lines

This change in the lineup may prove to be a win-win situation for both parties. For the purposes of this section, I am going to propose that Marleau plays on the third line while Tomas Hertl moves up to play with Nieto and Couture.

For the third line, they are gaining a natural-born goal scorer that could turn hot playing against weaker competition. His speed would bring a new dimension to a group that has been a little slow this season, meaning that he will be more of a handful to less-skilled players in the opposing lineup. Combine his speed and skill with a physical and intelligent Tommy Wingels along with a young and promising Chris Tierney and the Sharks’ may have a solid line to round out their top-nine.

San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl  (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)
San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

In terms of the second line, they will get a young star that could strongly benefit playing with the likes of Couture and Nieto. Hertl has not been as fast as he was last season possibly because he may still be recovering from his knee-on-knee collision with Dustin Brown last year. However, Nieto is still as fast as ever and could take the pressure off of the Czech for trying to be the fastest on the line. The Californian’s possession numbers are incredible and Couture has been the only player that has been able to score for this group. Perhaps Hertl could assist Couture with the goal scoring duties and help his team capitalize with one of the top possession players in the NHL on the ice.

A Need For Change

Marleau has had horrible luck this year and I believe that dropping him to the bottom six may not only help him, but help the second and third lines as well. This team is struggling offensively, especially five-on-five, so maybe juggling the lines in this way may spark some even strength goal scoring. It couldn’t hurt to try as it could just be an experiment; there is nothing that could stop them from reverting back to the same thing they have now. The playoffs are approaching and this squad is hardly competitive. Adjustments need to be made.

11 thoughts on “Could Marleau Improve On The Third Line?”

  1. I have been watching the games very closely….I do not think it is Patty’s struggle as he has been trying to feed off to Logue and other player…I do not see a chemistry between Logue and Patty as much that I can see when Patty plays with Tommy, both Joe’s….Also Hertl can boost that line up with Patty and Tommy, with their speed.
    Coaches should consider playing Patty averagely, not exceed his TOI as they have been in numerous games. I can see the frustration in Patty’s eyes because he has been juggling around with different lines, and still stuck with cry baby Logue who wants all to himself…
    Patty is number one in hockey, just like Joe Montana in football….They both need good team/lines to work together. Patty is so marvelous, despite the stats says right now as I have seen him trying to make many awesome plays….

  2. I guess I don’t understand the term ‘unlucky’ when it comes to shooting percentage. That seems to say that scoring goals in the NHL is nothing more than mere luck and chance. Certainly there is something to be said for lucky bounces/deflections and in a small sample size those things might affect shooting percentage to some degree. However, given that SJ is two thirds of the way through their season the ‘luck’ factor is totally bogus. PM is having a bad season, it’s likely that he is on a significant downswing in his long career…so please stop calling it ‘unlucky’ that his shooting percentage is in the ‘Kennedy’ range.

    • I’ve been starting to think the same thing, but he has his fair share of scoring chances this season. He’s had the puck bounce/roll on him and goalies have just stoned him on some grade-A saves. Plus he has a 98.0 PDO. Those you can attribute to luck, but I want to try and find some place that shows how many scoring chances he has gotten this year to see how much of a factor those things are. I just can’t see a player who has averaged a 13.5% shooting percentage suddenly having a 6.7% percentage primarily because of skill (he had an 11.6% last year, for comparison purposes). His natural goal-scoring ability may be deteriorating a bit, but I believe that it’s not the main reason for this significant drop.

      Thank you for the read!

  3. These are perhaps the least -insightful columns ever written on hockey. And I won’t be tricked into clicking on this tripe again.

    Marleau’s line is usually out against the other team’s #1 line. He’s still a great 2-way player who is more than a little snake-bit this season. Hertl would be _eaten alive_ by the other team’s #1 line.

    Maybe learn a bit more about hockey before crowning oneself a “Hockey Writer”

    • maybe you can have a difference of opinion without attacking someone else’s legitimate opinion. Dropping Marleau off the second line could indeed get him some better matchups for offensive purposes, he clearly hasnt been winning much of his top line matchups this year. Line changes could spark both Hertl and Marleau.

    • Hertl scored 15 goals in 37 games playing on the top line last season while being matched up against the opponent’s best players.

  4. And 1 more. If you looked at meaningful minutes during the regular season (and Olympics) for the forwards who played in the LAK-SJS playoff matchup last season, you’d notice some interesting things. I divided the minutes by 18 so you get a feel for how many ‘equivalent’ games each player played. Here were the top 8:

    Marleau 99 (equivalent games)
Kopitar 98

    Pavelski 96
Thornton 86

    Carter 82

    Richards 77

    Williams 77

    Brown 74

    all others, less than 70

    Sharks pretty much burned out Pavs, Jumbo and Marleau during the regular season, so in a 7 game series, they had nothing left by the end of it. Also note, who won the Conn Smythe for postseason MVP — none of the “big” names. It was the guy who played less that wound up MVP — Justin Williams. Marleau had more ice time over the year than Williams, even after adding in the 19 additional Stanley Cup playoff games that Willams played and Marleau didn’t.

    That is on the coaches, not the player.

  5. fwiw, I did some stats on Marleau, the first 10 games of the year vs the rest of the year. They are a few games out of date, but the point will be the same. He starts out great and then turns into, ordinary.

    Patrick Marleau, first 10 games of the year (last 4 years)
    2014: 4G 8A +1
    2013: 8G 4A +5
    2012: 9G 5A +2 (actually in Jan/Feb 2013 due to strike)
    2011: 2G 6A +6

    Combined 40 games (1st ten games in the last 4 years)
    23G, 21A +14

    averages: 1.1 ppg and +0.35 per game — that’s elite stuff.  Over 82 games, projects to 47(!!) goals, 90 points and +29

    Rest of season (exclude playoffs)
    2014/15: 3G 13A -7 (32 games)
    2013/14: 25G 33A -5 (72 games)
    2012/13: 8G 9A -4 (38 games due to strike)
    2011/12: 28G 28A +4 (72 games)
    combined 146 points in 224 games and -12

    64G 83A -4

    averages: 0.70 ppg and -0.04 per game — that’s 59 points per 82 games and a -3.  

    Its really been on Sharks mgmt to figure this out — and for whatever reason, they haven’t.

  6. you might want to check those ice time numbers. Marelau is among the league leaders in ice time for forwards. Perhaps you only had is 5 on 5 ice time — he plays both PP and PK for over 19min per night, tops among the team’s forwards

    • Very interesting analysis Zeke. I think that may support the idea that Marleau may be overused and gets fatigued as the year progresses. You are correct about the ice-time as well. That number is at even strength, which I wasn’t aware of when I pulled up that data.

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