SAN JOSE – It had been more than a dozen years since Sharks all-time leading scorer Patrick Marleau was mired in such a slump. You have to go all the way back to Feb. 12 – March 23, 2002 for the previous time the franchise icon went 16 games without a goal.
Marleau’s goal against the Maple Leafs on Thursday – the eventual game-winner in a 3-1 Sharks victory – ended that run of futility. It isn’t going to be played on any highlight reels, but when James Reimer inadvertently pushed the puck over the line with the back of his right pad midway through the first period, it was a welcome moment for the 35-year-old veteran.
“It was definitely nice,” Marleau said.
Todd McLellan said: "That's a good thing to see for us, and certainly for him. You could feel like it was coming the last few games, him taking it to the net hard and again tonight driving wide and using his speed. I hope for his sake and for ours they'll start going in more often now.”
Marleau has said all along that the scoring chances had been there, but in the past few games, he seemed more intent on driving the net. McLellan mentioned that in the loss to the Rangers last Saturday, Marleau went hard enough into the blue paint in search of his first goal since Dec. 6 that he knocked the net off its moorings on a couple of occasions.
That’s the way the majority of goals are scored these days, and Marleau’s goal against the Maple Leafs is a perfect example. He attacked the net with a good amount of speed, directed the disc towards Reimer, and was rewarded with some good fortune when Matt Nieto appeared to help push Reimer’s pad back towards the goal line.
“I think over the last five, six games he's really put his nose over the puck and gone to those spots,” McLellan said. “If he continues to do that, it will go in."
Marleau indicated his new linemates, Nieto and Joe Thornton, have aided his attack towards the net.
“It’s nice playing with those two guys,” he said. “We’ve played three games together. Somehow I’ve been able to gain some speed and come through the neutral zone a little bit faster, and it’s allowed me to do that.”
While Marleau got the monkey off his back, Thornton was probably the Sharks’ best player against Toronto. He was a big reason Marleau registered six shots on goal, and he also was a beast in the faceoff circle, winning 16 of 22 draws.
He also played with an edge, getting into a number of scraps and conversations with Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf.
Marleau’s longtime teammate was glad to see him finally light the lamp, too.
“I don’t know how many goals he’s got, I really don’t pay attention, but I know he’s got a boatload in his career and it was just a matter of time before he scored,” Thornton said. “He’s been a little bit snake bitten, and I know as a line, me, him and Nieto have been creating some good offense.”
The Sharks also got a goal from Tyler Kennedy, who has now played two effective games since coming off of the injured list. Kennedy skated alongside center Tomas Hertl, who had another impressive game as a center, and opened the scoring just 11 seconds before Marleau’s marker.
“I think we’re clicking a little bit,” Kennedy said of his line, which also includes Tye McGinn. “I think we’ve got to focus on the little things to be successful, and that’s what we’re doing now. It’s just two games, and you’ve got to keep moving on and getting better.”
Hertl’s line played a bit more than James Sheppard’s line at even strength, after it was perhaps the Sharks’ best trio on Tuesday night’s 3-2 win in Arizona.
"I thought they were our third line tonight, to tell you the truth,” McLellan said. “That’s powerful when you get that competitiveness amongst the group. They got us a goal. It was big goal. I thought they had a tremendous game again.
“Everybody found a way to contribute.”
Including, finally, Marleau.