SAN JOSE- For those of you who know me and/or have been reading me for awhile, you know that Patrick Marleau has never been amongst my favorite players in the league. You can certainly include me in the camp that has questioned Marleau’s shift in, shift out work ethic during past seasons. And given his point totals slipping from the 80′s to the 60′s over the last two seasons, I fully expected that decline to continue this season. So I would be lying if I said I saw this fast start coming.
However, there was the thought in the back of my mind that the streaky Marleau could simply get hot and stay hot during a shortened season. Furthermore, playing a shortened schedule of games ought to refresh the legs of the 33-year-old, (he has missed just one of the Sharks’ last 293 meaningful games) right?
Not to mention, common sense led many to believe that veteran teams with few roster changes would have an advantage in the shortened season. With the abbreviated training camp, familiarity would be key and so far, both Marleau and the Sharks have used their familiarity to get off to sizzling hot starts. San Jose is 5-0, and Marleau leads the entire NHL with nine goals.
But as the humble star continues to deflect credit and feign ignorance as to the causes of this mind boggling start, if we dig deep enough, there is some precedent for him re-establishing his game rather quickly after a disappointing season.
Think back to the 2007-08 campaign. It was the final year before the arrival of Todd McLellan as head coach. There were multiple reports that then head coach Ron Wilson and Marleau were having quite the strenuous relationship. The soft-spoken Marleau has always denied such rumors but that season was arguably the worst of his career. It was his lowest scoring season point-wise since 2001-02 and goal scoring-wise since 1999-00. Marleau finished the year with just 19 goals and 48 points in 78 games. Come playoff time he wasn’t much better with just eight points in 13 games.
Yet the following season Marleau would bounce back in a big way, scoring a then career-high 38 goals in McLellan’s first year behind the bench. Unfortunately for San Jose, that season’s playoffs is one they’d like to forget. Winners of the Presidents’ Trophy for the league’s best regular season record, the Sharks lost in the first round to the eighth seeded Anaheim Ducks. Marleau recorded just three points and had only 12 shots on goal in the six game series.
That offseason, Marleau and Joe Thornton were equally vilified for San Jose’s dismal playoff performance. At the time many fans were calling for Sharks GM Doug Wilson to “blow up” the roster. While cooler heads prevailed, Marleau was stripped of the captain’s “C” during the offseason. The coaching staff felt that then second year Sharks defenseman Rob Blake was the best man for the job, naming him captain instead.
So going into the 2009-10 season, there was no way that Marleau could bounce back after basically being told he was no longer worthy of being the captain, right?
With Sharks fans in a stage of euphoria over that summer’s acquisition of Dany Heatley, Marleau sprinted out of the gates with 10 goals in his first 14 games in route to a second straight career-high, 44 goal season. He also finished just three points shy of tying his career-high in points (86) set back in 2005-06. In the playoffs Marleau delivered a solid 13 points in 15 games, single-handedly making sure San Jose wasn’t completely destroyed by the faster and deeper Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference final.
Flash forward to 2012.
This past summer was the first since 2009 that Marleau was once again heavily criticized for his team’s lack of success.
Not only did Marleau’s regular season point totals decrease for a second straight season in 2011-12, but even more troubling was the fact that he was a complete non factor in San Jose’s first round series with the St. Louis Blues. Marleau went pointless in the five game series. But unlike 2009, Joe Thornton was praised for a terrific performance in the series and while Joe Pavelski (the third member of the top line) also went pointless, his share of the critics weren’t even half as loud. This time around Marleau was alone as the primary scapegoat.
Needless to say, expectations weren’t great for Marleau heading into this season and yet what have we seen so far?
We’re seeing him bounce back once more.
Correlation doesn’t necessarily prove causation but time and time again Marleau seems to shine when others put him down. And we have yet to even mention the two separate instances where he’s been extra impressive after (“coincidentally”) being called out by former teammate Jeremy Roenick.
Marleau will be the first to tell you there is no correlation to his post-criticism success but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.
Right now, the longest tenured Shark sure appears extra motivated and when you combine that with fresh legs and a familiarity advantage over many of his opponents, well, you get a start to the season not seen since 1917.
Andrew is in his third season covering the Sharks for Inside hockey, you can follow him on twitter: @ViewFromBensch