Patrick Marleau didn’t start out the 2016-17 season so great. He looked slow, his scoring touch seemed to have abandoned him and his possession numbers continued to slide. Now on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, it seems Marleau has finally found a home this season.
He scored the game-winning goal on Friday night, his sixth of the season, and has looked demonstrably better since joining Thornton and Pavelski. The numbers back up the eye test on this one, as you can see in the below chart.
The black boxes show shot rates with the given player. Yep, that’s Thornton and Pavelski all the way up by the “GOOD” header. They’ve been damn impressive since joining forces, which is only further backed up by the next chart.
He has been at his best while with Pavelski and Thornton, while struggling mightily in the ill-fated Marleau-Mikkel Boedker duo. I should note Marleau looked just fine when Tomas Hertl was dropped down to be the third line center (which, in my opinion, is why that move happened to begin with).
That’s not an option for the time being as Hertl is out with a right knee injury, but I doubt the Sharks move Marleau off the top line if it continues to produce. The truth is that the Joes weren’t themselves without Hertl up there, and Marleau joining the top line has helped mitigate that loss.
There was precedence for this move, too. The three played 2,315 total minutes together since 2006-07 entering this season. Most of those minutes came on the power play, but Marleau only played on two lines more than the Captain Line at 5v5 in that time frame (Devin Setoguchi-Thornton and Dany Heatley-Thornton).
Entering Friday’s game, the Captain Line posted a 5v5 fenwick-for percentage of 62.88, by far the best Marleau has posted on any line this season (minimum of 10 minutes). Two of his six goals have come since joining the Captain Line and the line boasted an xGF% of 57.11 heading into Friday’s contest.
Yes, playing with Thornton and Pavelski can make anyone better, but this season has shown not everyone can excel with the Joes. The Joel Ward experiment failed, Kevin Labanc didn’t seize the job and Mikkel Boedker couldn’t get anything going on the top line. Marleau absolutely needed a new home with Hertl on the shelf, but the Joes also needed a new linemate.
It looks like the Captain Line is here to stay, and I couldn’t be happier to see it clicking.