Over the next several days leading up to the Sharks' next game on Feb. 27, we'll count down eight questions facing the team as it gets set to start the stretch run.
Question 3 – Will Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau maintain their pace?
One of them got to relax for a week and a half. The other went to Sochi, and was a huge part of Canada’s taking home the gold medal.
Both will be counted on to keep playing at a high level when the Sharks’ season resumes, and will have to if the team has any shot at making a run to the Stanley Cup.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau remain the two highest profile players on the Sharks’ roster, even while younger players like Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic take an increasingly bigger stake in the team. They were also arguably the team’s two best players through the end of December, as Thornton led the league in assists and Marleau was the Sharks’ top goal scorer at the close of the calendar year.
Things cooled off for the 34-year-olds shortly after that, though, and both players were struggling in the days leading up to the Olympic break. Marleau scored a goal in the Sharks’ 3-2 win over Columbus on Feb. 7, but prior to that, had just one goal and one assist with a -7 rating in his previous seven games. Thornton entered the break with one lonely assist in his last seven.
They’ll have to regain their form if the Sharks plan on chasing down the Anaheim Ducks, whom they trail by seven points.
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“They are in different places coming out of the break, because of the break,” Todd McLellan said. “Jumbo has had a chance to rest. He’s getting his big body going again. Because he had nine days off without anything, it’s taken a little while here to get him skating again, but I think he’ll be ready to go.
“Patty, on the other hand, has been skating. … The rest part we’ll have to work in.”
Thornton, who is still second in the NHL with 48 assists, didn’t have the benefit of a break four years ago when he played in the Vancouver games. He enjoyed it this time around.
"I think the last six or seven games I personally didn’t play as well as I probably should have, but overall the first half has been a good year," Thornton said.
"I feel really good. It was nice to kind of get away from the grind every day. I haven’t done that in a lot of years. I feel refreshed, and ready for the stretch run.”
Despite the pair’s struggles just before vacation (and, it should be pointed out, shortly after they signed similar three-year contract extensions on Jan. 25), the Sharks managed to win three of their final four games.
And, they certainly weren’t the only ones who were failing to produce offensively.
Marleau sorely missed his linemate Logan Couture, who was out with a hand injury, while Brent Burns, Thornton’s right wing, hasn’t scored a goal in 16 straight games. Dan Boyle, Tommy Wingels, Tyler Kennedy and Marty Havlat have also experienced recent scoring droughts.
McLellan sensed an overall sort malaise with his team in late January/early February, but they were still able to battle through with some decent results. The Sharks went 10-6 while Couture was out with a hand injury (he’s set to return on Feb. 27 in Philadelphia).
“I think with our group, and in particular the older players, they knew what was coming. They knew a break was coming,” said the coach. “I don’t want to say they paced themselves, but there was kind of a pace car feeling with our whole team. Good enough to be in the games, good enough to win, but we’ve got to push the pace.
“We’ve got to push the tempo of the game, the speed of the game. We have to get better there.”
That starts with the two faces of the franchise, Thornton and Marleau, who have shown this season they can still be elite NHL players when on their respective games.