With Marleau scoring goals at a record pace to start the lockout-shortened season and Thornton at his playmaking best, the Sharks have won their first five games to get off to the best start in franchise history.
They’ll look to continue their impressive play Tuesday night, when they host an Anaheim Ducks team that has also played well in the early going.
The fast start comes nine months after the Sharks got eliminated in five games in the opening round of the playoffs by St. Louis. The step back after two straight trips to the Western Conference finals raised questions about whether a club led by 33-year-olds in Thornton and Marleau had missed its opportunity to win a Stanley Cup.
“Every year you have to earn respect,” Thornton said Monday. “It’s not given to you. We’ve had good years in the past. Obviously, people might be doubting us a little but this year just because people say, ‘You guys are getting old, you’re 33, Joe and Patty.’ We still have lots left in the tank. We still feel like we’re one of the elites in the West. We just have to prove it each and every night right now.”
They have done that so far, winning their first five games in commanding fashion to top the previous best start for the franchise in 2008-09. San Jose has outscored the opposition by 15 goals and is the third team in NHL history to win its first five games by at least two goals.
The Sharks have the top line of Thornton, Marleau and Joe Pavelski to thank for the early success.
Marleau became the first player in nearly a century to score at least two goals in the first four games, joining Ottawa’s Cy Denneny in 1917-18 as the only NHL players ever to achieve that feat. Marleau added a ninth goal in Sunday night’s 4-1 win over Vancouver as the record streak came to an end.
“It’s something that was fun,” Marleau said. “It was helping the team. It was kind of special. The pucks are bouncing right at the right time and going off me. It was fun.”
Marleau has gotten off to the fast start despite not playing any games during the four-month lockout in contrast to Thornton and Pavelski, who went to Europe.
Instead, Marleau skated with teammates in San Jose and went to camps in Phoenix and Colorado to play with other NHL players.
“I thought it might take me a little bit,” he said. “But obviously playing with two guys who had been playing overseas, that helped me out a lot out there.”
With nine goals and four assists, Marleau is tied with Thornton (three goals, 10 assists) for the NHL scoring lead and has single-handedly outscored San Jose’s opponents.
“You want to keep feeding him because he’s so hot,” Thornton said. “It just seems like he was always around the goal and the blue paint. That’s where he’s scoring a lot of his goals. For it to keep going in like it has, I haven’t seen anything like it. It’s real fun to watch.”
Pavelski is also off to a fast start with two goals and eight assists.
“We’ve played together for how many years now off and on again,” Marleau said. “To have that familiarity to start a short season after a short training camp, obviously it’s given us an edge early on. I think we can still build and get better as a line, but things are going really well right now.”
Anaheim can make that same claim after improving to 3-1-0 with Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over Nashville. Viktor Fasth made 19 saves and stopped all three shootout attempts to win his NHL debut, and Corey Perry scored the only shootout goal.
The Ducks now head back out on the road, where they scored 12 goals in winning their first two games. Anaheim has won six of seven in this series, including the last three matchups in San Jose, but leading scorer Daniel Winnik isn’t expecting an easy time as the Ducks face their first Pacific Division team.
“It’ll be a good test,” Winnik, who has scored five times, told the Ducks’ official website. “They’re one of the highest-scoring teams in the league and they’re beating everyone by at least two goals, so it’ll be a good first test. They’re divisional rivals, so we’ve got to come out strong.”