SAN JOSE, Calif. – Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton have found the perfect way to silence the talk about whether their window for success is closing in San Jose.
With Marleau scoring goals at a record pace to start the lockout-shortened season and Thornton at his playmaking best, the Sharks have won their first five games to get off to the best start in franchise history.
The fast start comes nine months after an early finish last season when the Sharks got eliminated in five games in the opening round of the playoffs by the St. Louis Blues. The step back after two straight trips to the Western Conference finals raised questions about whether a club led by 33-year-olds in Thornton and Marleau had missed its opportunity to win a Stanley Cup.
“Every year you have to earn respect,” Thornton said Monday. “It’s not given to you. We’ve had good years in the past. Obviously, people might be doubting us a little but this year just because people say, ‘You guys are getting old, you’re 33, Joe and Patty.’ We still have lots left in the tank. We still feel like we’re one of the elites in the West. We just have to prove it each and every night right now.”
They have done that so far, winning their first five games in commanding fashion to top the previous best start for the franchise in 2008-09. San Jose has outscored the opposition by 15 goals and is the third team in NHL history to win its first five games by at least two goals.
The Sharks have the top line of Thornton, Marleau and Joe Pavelski to thank for the early success.
Marleau became the first player in nearly a century to score at least two goals in the first four games, joining Ottawa’s Cy Denneny in 1917-18 as the only NHL players ever to achieve that feat. Marleau added a ninth goal in Sunday night’s 4-1 win over Vancouver, even though the record streak came to an end.
“It’s something that was fun,” Marleau said. “It was helping the team. It was kind of special. The pucks are bouncing right at the right time and going off me. It was fun.”
Marleau has gotten off to the fast start despite not playing any games during the four-month lockout in contrast to Thornton and Pavelski, who went to Europe.
Instead, Marleau skated with teammates in San Jose and went to camps on Phoenix and Colorado to play with other NHL players where he put more time into working on skills like stickhandling and shooting than he normally can during a season.
But still, he expected it to take time to get back up to game speed, but that wasn’t the case after the one-week training camp.
“I thought it might take me a little bit,” he said. “But obviously playing with two guys who had been playing overseas, that helped me out a lot out there.”
With nine goals and four assists, Marleau is tied with Thornton (three goals, 10 assists) for the NHL scoring lead and has single-handedly outscored San Jose’s opponents.
Marleau is the first player in 20 years to score at least two goals in four straight games at any point in the season and the only Sharks player ever to accomplish the feat.
“You want to keep feeding him because he’s so hot,” Thornton said. “It just seems like he was always around the goal and the blue paint. That’s where he’s scoring a lot of his goals. For it to keep going in like it has, I haven’t seen anything like it. It’s real fun to watch.”
Thornton has seen plenty of Marleau over the years. The two have been linemates for much of the time since Thornton arrived in San Jose in the 2005-06 season in a trade from Boston.
They also played together on Canada’s gold-medal winning team at the 2010 Olympics and coach Todd McLellan made a conscious decision to keep them together with Pavelski to start the season in hopes the chemistry would pay off in a season with a shortened training camp because of the lockout.
It sure has with Pavelski also off to a fast start with two goals and eight assists. Eight of the 14 goals for the trip have come on the power play, where the Sharks are converting a league-best 37.5 per cent of their chances.
“We’ve played together for how many years now off and on again,” Marleau said. “To have that familiarity to start a short season after a short training camp, obviously it’s given us an edge early on. I think we can still build and get better as a line, but things are going really well right now.”