A very popular voice around the San Jose Sharks says it all the time, “Your best players have to be your best players.” Drew Remenda, San Jose’s color analyst on the television side, has been repeating these words quite often throughout the first third of the season.
Lately, the Sharks have been slowly turning the corner, picking up six out of 10 points on an East Coast road trip and three out of four on a short two-game homestand. However, the big three forwards of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau have been nowhere near being the team’s most potent forward line over that span.
The “second” line of Ryane Clowe and rookies Logan Couture and Benn Ferriero have been the only Shark line consistently generating pressure and finishing their chances on a regular basis. In terms of production, this trio has clearly been the squad’s “first” line over the past seven games. The three of them have combined for 10 goals and 20 points over that span.
In contrast, the top three have seen their time together limited. The worst of the three has been the former captain Marleau. Despite scoring 44 goals a year ago, Marleau has been dropped down to the third line at times due to struggles at both ends of the ice. He has just three points in his last 10 games and is a whopping minus-17 on the season.
Now fellow stars Heatley and Thornton have been mildly better over the past handful of games, but none of the three have been producing at a level expected of them. Compared to the 10 goals and 20 points of the Clowe/Couture/Ferriero line, the big three have combined for just three goals and seven points in that same seven game span.
For the season, neither of the big three are on pace to match their season totals from last season. Heatley is nearly on the same pace, as his 29 points in 30 games is nearly identical to his 82 in 82 last season. But Thornton is on pace for just 79 points compared to his 89 last year and Marleau is on track for a mere 63 this year versus 83 last year.
Night in and night out, stars around the league like Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Pavel Datysuk, the Sedin twins, Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and others are being the best players for their respective clubs.
The same cannot be said for the Sharks’ top players, who, for as big as they are, often don’t use their size as effectively as they can. Heatley’s listed at 6’4, 221 pounds, but isn’t known as a physical player and both he and Marleau have tended to overly rely on their natural skill while neglecting to play simple hockey. Perhaps the trio has been playing through injuries we don’t know about, but their play of late suggests an attitude of expecting results without putting in work.
When they play, these three can be as dominant as any line in the league. But that is the issue, “when they play.” Defenseman and alternate captain Dan Boyle had the following to say in an episode of Shark Byte: “When we decide to play, not many teams can handle us.”
The tone of voice from the clip sounds like Boyle is mildly disgusted as in he may feel the Sharks don’t decide to play as often as they should. Whether or not San Jose’s top three fail to engage more often than their counterparts on other squads will forever remain speculation but players like Thornton and Heatley don’t exactly have squeaky clean reputations.
Either way, in order for the Sharks to go on a consistent winning streak, the big three are going to have to simplify their games and start producing to their usual levels.
Until that happens, the current mediocre results and middle of the road spot in the standings will follow the Sharks around.