A popular narrative around the NHL is that the Sharks core is aging and slowing down. While the former is certainly true, the latter couldn’t be further from the truth. Outside of the now 36-year-old Patrick Marleau, all the top players on the Sharks posted their typical offensive numbers last season.
Marleau was the only core player with a considerable down year offensively in 2014-15 scoring just 19 goals and 57 points. Thus far this year though, Marleau is showing a renewed focus because he is flying around on the ice like he is 26, not 36. He looks determined to prove that last season’s minus-17 rating was merely and off-year (they happen, even the best of players go through down seasons).
Marleau is a goal scorer, and off to a hot start with three goals in the Sharks’ first four games but it isn’t just about the goals. The career Shark has been moving his feet up and down the ice, forechecking and backchecking like his life depended on it. Offensively he is making things happen even when he isn’t scoring. Throughout his career Marleau’s “B” game has often included nonexistent backchecking and being invisible offensively when not on the score-sheet. This year though, his best shifts have been where he hasn’t scored.
Catch Me If You Can
In the home opener against the Ducks where he scored twice, the best opportunity he had was when he drove wide around a defender in a one-on-one situation, getting in behind him and cutting in for a Grade-A look just outside the crease. Against New Jersey on Friday night, Marleau appeared like he was shot out of a cannon off a defensive zone face-off.
He picked up a loose puck and blew by a Devils forward and one Devils defenseman in a blink of an eye before making the last defenseman Andy Greene look like a pylon in the neutral zone. Marleau would fail to convert the breakaway and subsequent penalty shot attempt but those kind of individual efforts are huge for a team. The Sharks didn’t have much going offensively against New Jersey in terms of sustained pressure and a cycle game, so to get those individual highlight reel opportunities from a supposedly “slowing down” 36-year old was huge.
The big part about Marleau’s success thus far this season is that he has looked phenomenal at even strength, an area where he struggled a year ago. He scored just 12 goals all season while skating five-aside when most seasons he averages around 20 even-strength tallies.
Obviously Marleau won’t keep up his current rate of scoring, but being on pace for 60 even strength goals through the first four games is a great way to start the year considering his terrible puck luck last season. That said, he did start off hot a year ago before going ice cold. We will have to see if Marleau is still skating and finishing over the next 10-12 games before getting a real idea on whether this is going to be a bounce back campaign.
Through these first four games though No. 12 looks like a much different player than he was in 2014-15. Perhaps a combination of a new voice behind the bench and renewed confidence are the driving forces behind the early success. Or maybe last year Marleau was dealing with more bumps and bruises than we knew about, hockey players and the NHL as a league are notoriously mum about injuries. Either way, to start this season Marleau is back to looking like one of the top-5 fastest skaters in the league, whereas last year when he looked simply like your average fast guy.