SAN JOSE- While there is a small fraction of Sharks followers who will dispute the following notion, the vast majority agree that when Patrick Marleau is hot, he’s hot and when he’s cold, he’s cold.
And after a blazing start, one that we discussed here a couple weeks ago, in which Marleau scored nine goals and added five assists in the first five games, he has since gone the following six without a point.
While San Jose’s first and third lines are creating offensive chances and good zone time, Marleau and his current linemates Marty Havlat and Logan Couture haven’t been up to snuff.
And one of the easiest problems to point out is that despite their on paper talent, with Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe paired together with Joe Pavelski, it leaves the second line without a big puck control body to dominate along the boards.
Although there is one caveat about that, because Marleau at 6’2″ 220 pounds is a big body. However, when Marleau is cold you can tell he doesn’t have the same physical presence along the boards of a Thornton or Clowe. He simply isn’t as strong along the wall and that at times gets Marleau into scoring droughts.
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan has talked a lot about Marleau being “engaged physically” when he’s playing well.
You could certainly argue Marleau was playing a more physical style during his hot streak than he seems to be the last few games. But the important thing to note is playing physical doesn’t just mean finishing your checks.
It’s also about the pure battles for space and forcing your will to get to the net which leads me to my primary criticism from the 1-0 shoot-out loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday afternoon.
The play probably won’t be in any highlight reels but if you have the game DVR’d, go to the six minute mark of the second period (AKA 14 minutes remaining) and watch how Marleau stops up on the semi-two-on-one rush. Marleau passes to Gomez in the high slot but it really ends up not being much of a scoring chance because the pass is well outside the prime scoring zone.
What I would like to see there is for Marleau (a big body and one of the best skaters in the league mind you) to drive to the net and beat the defenseman one-on-one by out-muscling him to the crease. The defenseman back for Phoenix was Keith Yandle, listed at the same height as Marleau but anywhere from 20-30 pounds lighter (according to NHL and Yahoo profiles).
By driving wide to the net and using his size and skating ability, Marleau creates a much better scoring chance. He could either score himself or a rebound off Mike Smith’s pads in that situation might be left sitting in the crease for Gomez to chip home.
While many Sharks fans despise former Shark Jeremy Roenick for his criticisms of Marleau’s game, there is some legitimacy to Roenick’s position. Marleau puts questionable decision making on tape with his style of play. Those of us who have played the game at a high level notice how these types of plays could have been executed much differently.
It’s not to say that no other star player in the league struggles with similar discrepancies but you would like to see No. 12 in teal do a better job using his size and speed to his advantage. Slamming on the breaks and looking for a high zone pass on a two-on-one is doing the opposite.
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