Marleau could be X-factor against Canucks

Sharks chomping at the bit

Marleau could be X-factor against Canucks
April 30, 2013, 7:00 pm
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If gets his legs underneath him early, he’s a game changer.
—Joe Thornton on Patrick Marleau

VANCOUVER – Patrick Marleau is a bit of a forgotten man as the playoffs get set to begin.

After all, Logan Couture’s skyrocketing play, Brent Burns’ move to forward, Joe Pavelski’s transition to third line center and Antti Niemi’s Vezina-type season have been mentioned over and over again as the key factors to the Sharks resurrecting their season after it was sinking like a stone in the mid- March.

But Marleau could play a huge role in the Sharks' first round series against Vancouver, if history is any indication. In the 2011 Western Conference finals against the Canucks, he led the team in scoring with seven points (4g, 3a) in the five-game ouster.

What does he remember about that series?

“Just how hard fought it was,” Marleau said.

Reflecting upon Marleau's performance that year, Joe Thornton, who has played with Marleau for eight seasons now, said that his longtime teammate can still produce when he’s utilizing his single biggest asset.

“He skates so well, I think when he skates, he’s dominating,” Thornton said. “If gets his legs underneath him early, he’s a game changer. As long as he’s skating hard, I expect he’s going to have a great series.”

* * *

It’s been a bizarre three months for Marleau.

The 33-year-old started the shortened season as the hottest player in hockey, registering four consecutive multiple-goal games and nine goals in the first five games overall.

Since then? Marleau tallied eight goals over the final 43 games, including just one in the final 16.

Marleau was asked on Tuesday afternoon how he feels about his game heading into yet another postseason as a member of the San Jose Sharks, his ninth straight.

“Good, I think. Playoff time, new season,” he said. “Everybody’s excited about it. I’m excited. [Being] able to play with Logan and Marty [Havlat] the last few games, you build a little bit of chemistry, and we feel pretty comfortable together.”

Despite the lack of production in the goal-scoring department, Marleau could have the right to feel good about his game, as his role has changed since the beginning of the season.

The Sharks began a key seven-game homestand on March 27, and Marleau was slotted as a winger on a line with Couture and, at the time, Tommy Wingels. That trio drew the assignment of playing against the opposing team’s top line every night, and except for the final game of that seven-game stretch against Dallas, it was an effective group. Thanks to a much more balanced attack, San Jose went 6-1-0 and essentially cemented its playoff spot after an extremely bumpy run for the six weeks prior.

Lately, it’s been Havlat on the right side of Marleau and Couture, and it’s been the Sharks’ best five-on-five line most nights. Couture ended the season with 10 points in his last 12 games, and even Havlat had five points in his last four games after being dormant for much of the season. They continue to play against the best players on the other team as much as possible.

“The offense hasn’t been there for him, per se, but when you think about the big goals that line has scored, he’s been involved in them,” Todd McLellan said of Marleau. “Maybe not always as the primary assist-getter, but he’s been involved in them.

"If you revert back to the trade deadline when we made some transitions with our team and how he was used against the other team’s top lines, they did a pretty good job, and our record speaks for it. It just goes to show, you don’t always have to be scoring to be effective. They will be counted on as some of our go-to guys, and they’ll have to have go-to type series.”

Marleau seems confident the Sharks have found their identity, going 12-5-1 in their last 18 games, with Game 1 of the playoffs set for Wednesday night.

“Everybody buying into the system and playing a certain way, we got the results we wanted,” he said. “Now, it’s time to duplicate that in the playoffs.”