SAN JOSE- Much has been made over the years about the San Jose Sharks being “soft” when it comes to the postseason. And the poster boy for such talk over the years has been none other than star forward Patrick Marleau.
For those who have followed yours truly over the years, you know I’ve had my qualms with Marleau’s game. After all I’m one of those Sharks followers who found nothing wrong with Jeremy Roenick’s “gutless” comments that came after Game 5 of San Jose’s 2011 Western conference semi-final series with the Detroit Red Wings.
But like Roenick, I’ve never doubted the tremendous ability Marleau brings to the table. The doubt comes from whether or not he commits 100% to imposing his physical will on the ice. And that doesn’t mean just hits. Honestly we can throw the hits stat category out the window, it’s just a piece of junk.
The observations many of us Marleau detractors have had is that he can often times shy away from using his body whether that is finishing checks, using a power move to the net, or simply out muscling his checker for space.
A lot of Marleau supporters like to claim that being physical just isn’t his style, that it’s “not his game.” But that sentiment is a bunch of baloney.
When you combine his excellent size (6’2” 220 pounds) with his elite speed, Marleau can use his body and is most effective when he is using his size to his advantage.
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan used the phrase “engaged physically” earlier this season when describing the type of player Marleau is when he’s at the top of his game. And through two games of this first round Marleau is clearly playing his best hockey. He’s scored a goal in each of the first two games and one of the reason’s for the offensive success is that No. 12 is imposing his will.
On Saturday I reminded McLellan of the “engaged physically” comments and if that is the player he’s seeing here lately with Marleau.
“I would say it is, yeah” confirmed McLellan. “Physical is such a broad word, when you use that word some people think ‘fight’, some people think just ‘dump and run’ but it’s body position, going to the blue paint to score goals, which he has. Physical to me is what you’re doing at the 40 second mark of a shift when you really don’t want to do it anymore and your body is not letting you but finding a way to get it done.”
As mentioned previously, the hit statistic is absurd. Marleau has been credited with just two in two games but the eye ball test suggests that he has certainly ramped up his intensity. The determination he is showing “to get it done” has a lot to do with him doing the dirty, grinding work, and there is a big physical element to that.
For whatever reason, sometimes dishing out a strong check or even receiving one can get guys going and it seems to definitely get Marleau going.
I brought McLellan’s comments to Marleau’s attention and asked him if he feels getting a hit in early helps get him going.
“Yeah it can, when hits are there you take them.” responded Marleau. “I think it might be one of those things where you hit somebody you take them off the puck, then loose puck is there and you’re able to stay in the other team’s zone, you get more chances that way.”
Some players, even great ones, do play sloppier hockey when opponents are especially physical with them, (Evgeni Malkin comes to mind) but that’s not the case with Marleau. Marleau thrives in the physical atmosphere and a couple of old playoff series come to mind as evidence.
In Game 3 of the 2007-08 quarterfinal series with the Calgary Flames, Marleau got infamously roughed up and was bleeding from the forehead thanks to some brutal hits hit from Flames defenseman Cory Sarich. But Marleau battled through and had six points in that seven game series including a monster Game 5 where he had a goal, an assist, and was all over the ice.
Furthermore, in Game 2 of the 2011 Western Conference final against Vancouver, Marleau, who never drops the gloves, danced with Kevin Bieksa. The following game, Marleau powered the Sharks to their lone victory in the series with a two goal, one assist effort. He finished the five game series with seven points, five of which came after the bout.
Marleau is simply the type of player teams should stay away from. The old saying of let the sleeping giant sleep is exactly how teams ought to handle No. 12. But even if opponents take my advice, the way Marleau is going right now, the killer Shark doesn’t need any help waking as he has been getting up like a mad man on a mission.
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