The start of any NHL season, even a lockout-shortened one, is largely a joyous occasion, replete with absurd first-week results for everyone to overreact to, fresh faces around the league to get excited about and, um, Don Cherry standing up, apparently. Really the only thing that can pierce through the veneer of early-season revelry is that one guy making the tired joke about players being "on pace for" scoring numbers that they're clearly never going to attain, over and over again. But in the case of Patrick Marleau, that guy (it's really about half the internet) might actually, finally, be right.
Okay, so that's not true. Marleau isn't going to score 96 goals this season but his torrid pace to open 2013 is so ridiculous that he has now scored twice as many goals as the entire Los Angeles Kings roster this year. At some point, he'll stop scoring on every other shot he takes but that point wasn't Saturday afternoon, as Marleau's fourth straight two-goal game led the Sharks to a 4-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
If you read this blog, you're probably aware that I'm loathe to craft a narrative around a non-goal event that, in retrospect, is viewed to have "turned the tide of momentum." The vast majority of the time, it's a lazy, post hoc explanation for the natural course of shit happening in a hockey game. And, really, if the Sharks hadn't capitalized on either half of the double minor awarded to Ryan O'Byrne after his attempted retribution against Brad Stuart for the thunderous Gabriel Landeskog hit, the narrative would have probably conveniently changed to the Avs heroically responding to the fall of their captain.
Instead, Marleau found twine twice during the Sharks' ensuing four-minute power play, dishing the puck to the high slot for Dan Boyle before swooping around the net to fish out and deposit the rebound the first time then capitalizing on a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play between Boyle and Joe Thornton on the second. Despite a sluggish start that resulted in them getting outshot and outchanced by the Avs prior to the Stuart hit, San Jose returned to form following the conclusion of that power play and dominated Colorado for the remainder of the game.
Was the Sharks' improved play over the final two periods a result of some sort of emotional boost received from the Stuart hit? Beats me, but it seems more likely it had to do with the team finding their legs after an unusually early puck drop. What the hit indisputably did result in was that extended power play and as much as the Sharks taking a penalty has been an automatic goal against this season (although the PK did look considerably better in limited action this afternoon), the red light behind the opposition net has been ignited nearly every time they draw one.
- As for the legality of the hit itself, which I assume will be the topic du jour over the next 24 hours, it wasn't late or high, Stuart didn't lead with his elbow and he also didn't appear to be presented with much of an alternative in that situation (apart from allowing Landeskog to walk around him). At the same time, the principal point of contact was pretty decisively the head which is strictly forbidden. Good to see Landeskog return to the ice at any rate.
- It felt great to see Matt Irwin get his first NHL goal on that rocket of a shot, and a well-deserved one at that. His instincts in the offensive zone so far have been fantastic, and he's really opened up more room for Dan Boyle to operate than any of Boyle's previous partners in San Jose.
- I just don't follow the logic of those who hold up Michal Handzus' (decidedly stellar) faceoff numbers as proof of his great play. If you believe puck possession to be important (which is presumably why you care about faceoff wins in the first place), why not look at the actual possession numbers? Winning a bunch of draws is meaningless if you're continually forfeiting the puck afterwards, which is exactly what the Sharks have done with Handzus on the ice over the past season and four games.
- Unsurprisingly, seeing as they introduced two new players in Irwin and Scott Gomez, the difference in the level of the second power play unit's cohesion between the first time they hit the ice this afternoon and the last time was jarring.
- Speaking of Gomez, hopefully his spot between Adam Burish and Andrew Desjardins on the team's fourth line was merely Todd McLellan's way of easing him into the lineup. He should clearly be playing with wingers who possess actual NHL-caliber skill.
- Douglas Murray kills any hope of a clean exit out of the defensive zone every time he steps on the ice.
- Great game for Thomas Greiss in picking up his first career shutout, turning aside all 24 Colorado shots and all 10 scoring chances.
FTF Three Stars
2nd Star: Thomas Greiss
3rd Star: Joe Thornton
A week into the season, only New Jersey, Chicago and San Jose remain among the NHL's undefeated. Go Sharks.