Player Power Rankings Week 2: A refreshing glass of Marleau

It should help wash down last week for, like, ever.

What a difference the order of events makes in our interpretation. Imagine the mood among San Jose Sharks fans if the Sharks had whipped the Vegas Golden Knights in back-to-back games, then dropped four straight against the Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators, Chicago Blackhawks, and Calgary Flames. There almost definitely would not be this sense of optimism and hope for the future, and the Sharks’ 2-4-0 record and position just one slot removed from the Pacific Division’s basement would surely be cause for greater alarm.

After what this team and commensurate unrelated events put the fans through for the season’s first two weeks, though, back-to-back wins have been cause for a great exhalation. After Evander Kane’s suspension, Erik Karlsson’s temporarily mysterious opening night absence (which turned out to be delightful), the team’s thorough shellacking at the hands of the arch-rival Vegas Knights, injuries to just about everyone below Brenden Dillon on the defensive depth chart, a 0-4 start to the season that tied the franchise’s worst start way back from 1993, and a return to horrifying form for Martin Jones and Aaron Dell, San Jose’s fan base needed a win, and desperately.

Enter Patrick Marleau.

The Sharks all-time leader in goals, points, and games played signed a one-year, $700,000 contract to return to the team in Chicago on Thursday, and immediately powered the team to its first two wins on the season by force of his sheer quiet veteran presence or something. That’s being overly flippant, but it’s not hyperbolic to say that Marleau looked very comfortable scoring two goals against a two-time Stanley Cup champion after missing training camp and not playing NHL hockey since April. There’ll be more about Marleau later on in this space, but suffice it to say we’re glad to have him back if he can continue to look anything like he did in these first two games.

All that in mind, the Sharks’ 2-4-0 start to the season is not pretty in a vacuum, but they aren’t the only team defying expectations through the season’s early goings. Let’s take a few minutes to look a little closer at other teams defying pre-season predictions and, in some cases, feel a little better about our boys in teal.

Edmonton Oilers: We touched on this a bit in yesterday’s Pacific Division round up, but the Oilers, projected by just about everyone to toil away in the NHL’s basement for an nth straight season, roared out to a 5-0-0 start, their best since starting 7-0-0 in 1983, before dropping a nail biter 3-1 decision to Chicago last night. There are signals, though, that they haven’t so much turned a corner into a new and brighter future, but are just riding a superstar-induced high a little earlier than we may be used to. With Connor McDavid on the ice, Edmonton is outscoring opponents 15-5. Without him, it’s 7-8, and the Oilers have yet to score the first goal in a game. The wheels here are wobbling, even if they haven’t come all the way off yet.

New Jersey Devils: After adding P.K. Subban, Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev and Wayne Simmonds, the Devils were a trendy pick to make the postseason after missing in 2018-19. That has not gone well so far. After blowing a three-goal lead against the Florida Panthers yesterday, the Devils are 0-4-2, 30th place in the NHL, one point ahead of Chicago after having played three more games, the only winless team in the league, and their -16 goal differential makes the whole thing look even worse. How much longer does head coach John Hynes have?

Buffalo Sabres: Atop the Atlantic division, as everyone predicted, sit the Sabres, with a 5-0-1 record and 11 points. What happens when their .956 save percentage falls back to something reasonable? We know former Shark Carter Hutton is a good goaltender, but he probably isn’t this good.

Dallas Stars: The Stars have one win in seven games, and have averaged fewer than two goals per game so far. With the offensive firepower Dallas boasts, it seems insane to expect a power outage to last much longer. Roope Hintz leads the team with four goals, and only Tyler Seguin has two. John Klingberg and Joe Pavelski have yet to find net, and the team’s .952 PDO is 26th in the league. They’ll figure it out, but the Central Division is not known for its forgiving nature.

All this is to say that San Jose’s 2-4-0 start is not unique in the magnitude of its difference from all of our expectations. The season is 12 days old, and on day 13 of last season, the Ducks led the Pacific, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Knights had four points, and the Sharks were 2-3-1.

This too shall pass.

1. Patrick Marleau

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week221320758.92

He’s back! While narratives about Marleau’s presence and calming aura being causally related to the Sharks’ finally stringing together a few successful performances are probably premature, he did score two pretty respectable goals in his first game back. While many naysayers (waves sheepishly) were and still are skeptical about the 40-year-old’s ability to contribute consistently across the full span of a 78-game season, Marleau is contributing now, and tomorrow’s concerns can be addressed when we get there.

Like most of the things Marleau has done in the last few years, this goal seemed to play out in slow motion. Even with a fair amount of time out of the game, Marleau knows how to exploit empty space, and his casual drift to the net front is made possible by Timo Meier’s charge into the slot. As Marleau nears the net and the puck follows him, as it is wont to do, Olli Maatta tragically fails to contend with Mr. Shark’s apparently formidable Old Man Strength. Yes, it’s a rebound goal, and a garbage goal, but there’s a display of hockey sense there that hasn’t gone away yet.

2. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week304430655.63

Last week: 1

Logan Couture was all over the ice all week, disrupting plays, creating plays, setting up his teammates, and if there is any concern about his ability to lead the Sharks as captain in the room and off the ice, there sure shouldn’t be any worries on it. Through six games, Couture leads the team with six points, four of which were beautiful primary assists. While Marleau’s return dominated the headlines this week, the team still belongs to Couture for at least as long as he keeps performing like this.

Meier finished this play off, but nothing would have happened had it not been for Couture’s victimization of Elias Lindholm. As Lindholm tried to out-muscle Couture along the wall, Meier moved in to support but saw quickly he was not needed and headed to the net. Meanwhile, Couture drew Lindholm down into the corner, then cut back, the puck just inches from Lindholm’s right skate blade, to ditch the young Swede all alone. The extra time Couture had to set up Meier with a toss toward the Calgary net was enough for the Swiss wizard to get his stick down and keep it down, free from the interference of Flames defender Travis Hamonic.

3. Kevin Labanc

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week320220952.71

After dominating play on the offensive side of the puck in Nashville against the Predators, Kevin Labanc finally got on the board in Chicago, and is currently sitting on a tidy two-game goal streak. Those two tallies tie him for first on the team (oof), and if he can ever get some consistency regarding line mates (his most common partners, Tomas Hertl and Lukas Radil, make up just over 18 percent of this ice time), he may be able to get a real rhythm together and show general manager Doug Wilson that he’s worth more than the piddling one million dollar bridge deal he signed this last off-season.

Who knew the kid had this in him? First, let’s respect the disdain with which Labanc passed the puck off to Hertl on his way into the zone. There’s a “hold on to this for me for a second” in his posture and his glance back to Hertl once he clears the stick of Flames back checker Michael Frolik. There’s not a ton of analysis to be made on the shot itself, there’s no real deception there, it’s just an example of a perfectly placed wrist shot from a shooter who absolutely has a particular goaltender’s number. Labanc now has six career goals against Cameron J. Talbot esq. There are no other goalies against whom he has more than two.

4. Brent Burns

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3224281060.89

Before we hop into the comments with examples of Burns being absolutely undressed in the defensive zone, and there are many, consider this quote referring to his goal in Chicago: “I don’t even know if that counts,” Burns said of his goal, which deflected in off defenseman Connor Murphy. “In a week, it’ll be a one-timer, top corner. Hopefully, my son’s sleeping and he didn’t see it, and I can tell him a good story.” Come on. Burns has four points in three games this week, which would be enough to make these rankings in spite of his many defensive miscues, but even if it wasn’t, this quote would do it. Here’s the goal:

If there’s one thing that can always be said about Burns, it’s that he is not afraid to shoot the puck. Many players (Labanc apparently not included this week) would pass up a shot from such a sharp angle, looking for a cross crease pass or a bail out back to the point, but Burns fears no shot. The idea that he meant to bank the puck into the net off of poor Murphy seems pretty absurd, but throwing the puck at the net makes good things happen, or so say many wise old Hockey Men.

5. Tomas Hertl

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week311222556.18

After being held to no points in his first five games, along with more than a few of his teammates, Tomas Hertl finally found the scoreboard at home against Calgary on Sunday. With an assist in addition to his short-handed goal, Hertl was all over the ice in San Jose, creating chances and using his deceptively gigantic Czech frame to make space for his teammates. The addition of Marleau has created some depth at right wing for the Sharks, allowing Hertl to play with Labanc and Evander Kane, instead of Radil or Melker Karlsson or Lean Bergmann or any one of a number of young up-and-comers and, similarly to Labanc, if Hertl can be allowed to develop some chemistry here, he’ll only get more effective.

As good as Hertl’s play and shot was here, and as good as Couture’s block was in the defensive zone, what was Mark Giordano trying to accomplish? The only explanation I can think of that makes any sense is that he didn’t know that Hertl was there. On a 2-on-1, the defender should be trying to take away the pass, and allow the goaltender to face down the puck carrier, but Giordano was too far back to get into the passing lane. He ended up halfway between Couture’s shooting lane and the passing lane to Hertl, and ended up totally ineffective. A rare slip in concentration for a truly great defender, and Hertl made the Flames pay for it.

Hono(u)rable mentions

Dylan Gambrell: After looking like just about anything but an NHL player for the first week of the season, Gambrell seems to have found his legs. His inclusion on the team’s top power play unit on Sunday likely had something to do with it, but a big step from him would go a long way in solving San Jose’s depth problems at forward.

Timo Meier: A favorite break-out candidate heading into the season, Meier finally got his first goal against the Flames on Sunday. Is that the recipe for a hot streak? With the Sharks’ next few opponents, we’ll have to hope so.

David Pastrnak: Four goals against Anaheim yesterday. What a dominant player. He’s friggin’ unstoppable.