After opening the season with three goals and an assist (plus-3) in his first four games, Sharks forward Patrick Marleau went the next six games with just two assists and a minus-7 rating. The Sharks won only one of those six games after winning the first four. Not rocket science, but so far this season, as has been the case for most of his 17-year career, as Patrick Marleau goes, so go the Sharks.
In Colorado on Sunday afternoon the Sharks took care of business against a lesser opponent for the third time this season. After struggling badly against these types of teams last year, the Sharks are now a perfect three-for-three in games against teams predicted to be significant long shots at the postseason. Some might suggest that Brent Burns’ two-goal performance should earn him the No. 1 star in the 4-3 win over the Avalanche but it was Marleau’s two-assists that were more impressive.
With the Sharks trailing 1-0 in the first period, Marleau’s aggressive pressure in the offensive zone allowed him to intercept a short breakout pass. He then instinctively whipped a back-hand pass down in the zone right to Joel Ward who capitalized on his own rebound to tie the score.
Marleau’s Magnificent Speed
While a weird sequence at the end of the game technically made Joe Pavelski’s empty net goal the game-winner, Marleau’s speed set up the play that essentially won the game. After Burns initiated the breakout, Tomas Hertl made a nice pass to a streaking Marleau on the left wing. No. 12 then drove the defenseman deep into the zone before slamming on the breaks to create space in the middle of the zone as Hertl and Ward crashed the net. Marleau used that space to spot Burns as the fourth man in on the attack and fed him the puck. Burns took it off his skate and fired a wrister far-side for the 3-2 lead with under two minutes remaining.
On both of these plays, Marleau got back to working with what he does best, and that is moving his feet and attacking the game. During his scoring droughts, Marleau can get passive and sometimes lazy on the backcheck, but this afternoon he was attacking the game and tracking back through the neutral zone to break up plays. The two helpers now give him eight points on the year through eleven games, a pace pretty similar to his “down year” of 57 points last season but he has been far more noticeable in his good performances so far this year than in 2014-15. It’s the willingness to work hard away from the puck that appears to be a renewed focus to defense. Perhaps Marleau was one of those guys that needed a change behind the bench. Despite his recent slump, Marleau has looked much more committed to all aspects of the game early this season under first-year head coach Peter DeBoer.