Patrick Freakin’ Marleau. There’s really no other way to start this post. The long-time face of San Jose’s franchise is off to an unbelievable start, leading the NHL with six goals through the first three games. The Sharks latest win, a 5-3 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes in San Jose’s home opener, is just another step in the team’s attempt to achieve victory in every way possible. The first win was rebounding from a sloppy start; the second was a shelacking and now we have an adversity-beating rally to hang our hats on. The arbiter of all three? Patrick Freakin’ Marleau.
Does the guy have his alarm clock set to blare Jeremy Roenick’s voice when he wakes up in the morning? For a player who is always stoic (even when he’s scoring circus goals), Patty looks like he’s having a lot of fun playing hockey right now.
Of course the less-documented sidekick in Marleau’s attempt to takeover the NHL world is Joe Thornton, who is also playing the best hockey I’ve seen in a while. Jumbo has collected nine points (one goal, eight assists) to open the season, giving him the league’s lead for assists and overall points as well. It looks like San Jose has quickly solidified their two top lines for 2013: Jumbo, Patty and Joe Pavelski to open and Martin Havlat, Ryane Clowe and Logan Couture t0 follow.
San Jose’s power play went relatively cold tonight, converting only two of their seven opportunities. One was an empty-netter from Thornton in the final seconds of the game. Yet, even without scoring goals, the unit did look awfully crisp. I haven’t seen a group of skaters pass the puck and cycle so well in a long time — it’s reminiscent of some of the more dominant Red Wings teams from years past.
No team could expect to sit on a one-goal lead for the entire game, especially when taking penalties is becoming a support group-beckoning addiction. The Coyotes’ game-tying goal came on a two-minute five-on-three. The Sharks gave up the score with less than 20 seconds left in the kill, but their effort was incredibly solid nonetheless. Douglas Murray was stellar in front of the net, blocking two shots and staying physical without leaving his feet. Michal Handzus provided the defensive play of the night, diving in front of an awfully hard shot that otherwise would have connected.
Relentless pressure from Phoenix seemed to get the best of the Sharks in the third, and they ended up facing their steepest climb of the early season when Lauri Korpikoski pushed the lead to two with one of the weirder goals you’ll ever see. He took one of those zero angle shots, more meant to create rebounds than actually get past the goalie. It may have caught Antti Niemi a little by surprise, but sometimes the puck has eyes and this one rolled up Niemi’s skate, over his right shoulder and down his back into the goal.
It didn’t take long for the Sharks to respond. The Sharks conjured a hungry San Jose crowd with a goal from Marleau, a game-tying score from Martin Havlat and the game-winner from, you guessed it: Patrick Freakin’ Marleau.
— The most impressive young Shark tonight had to be defenseman Matt Irwin. He created at least two scoring chances, aggressively driving for the net whenever he saw a chance. San Jose’s fourth line came up with a strong scoring opportunity five minutes into the third period, head-manned by a nice drive into the zone by Irwin. Unfortunately, Phoenix answered back by driving into the Sharks’ zone. A blocked shot lost nearly everyone except Antoine Vermette, who wristed it past Niemi split seconds after Shane Doan took out the goalie’s right pad. Irwin got his redemption on Marleau’s second goal, earning his first point of the season, a secondary assist, for his efforts.
— Thornton to Marleau, Thornton to Marleau, Thornton to Marleau. Is there a hotter duo in the NHL right now? I’m not sure how the Coyotes let Patty get so unbelievably open right in front of the goalmouth on the Sharks’ second goal, but once Thronton had the puck and a lane to pass in was over for Coyotes’ goalie Jason LaBarbera.
— Good lord, let’s hope Havlat stays healthy this year. He had a filthy dangle to draw a penalty in the first period and a hustle goal in the third off of a Ryane Clowe shot to tie the game at three. He is a totally different player than what we saw of him in a Sharks uniform last year. It makes you wonder what could have been if it weren’t for the freak injury he suffered early in the season.
— Keith Yandle must not like hats, because he did everything but molest Marleau to keep him from scoring a third goal on the empty net.
— What lockout? The Tank was packed and absolutely rocking tonight. The audio on my TV actually reverted to muffling when the Sharks took the ice because its measly speakers couldn’t handle the hunger of the crowd. San Jose is obviously happy to have the NHL back in town.