SAN JOSE – Oh, what a difference nine months can make.
Patrick Marleau netted two third period goals to ignite an incredible, 5-3 comeback win over the Phoenix Coyotes in the San Jose Sharks home opener at HP Pavilion Thursday night. With the victory, the Sharks maintain a perfect 3-0 record.
“It’s a good start,” Captain Joe Thornton said. “It’s better than being 0-3.”
In April, Marleau received a healthy dose of the blame for the quickest Stanley Cup playoff exit in franchise history. He scored only four goals in his last 27 games last year, including the playoffs. Now, he leads the NHL with six goals in three games.
“It feels good. I won’t lie to you, it feels good,” Marleau said.
After jumping all over the Coyotes in the opening 10 minutes of the game, the Sharks found themselves trailing 3-1 when Phoenix scored a pair of goals in the first 7:28 of the third period.
But Marleau gave the Sharks a pulse after Thornton found him all alone in front of the net. He fired the puck past the goalie Jason Labarbera, who was in for the injured Mike Smith, to make the score 3-2 with 10:45 left in regulation.
“I was just trying to get it off quick and I was able to sneak it in under his arm,” Marleau said.
The Sharks tied the game less than four minutes later when Martin Havlat tucked a rebound inside the right goalpost, setting the stage for Marleau’s game winner with 1:53 to play.
Marleau scored his sixth and most dramatic goal of the season on the rush from the middle of the circle after receiving a pass from Joe Pavelski. The longest-tenured Shark has scored two goals in each of the team’s three games this season.
But Marleau wasn’t the only Sharks player to put his name all over the stat sheet on Thursday. Thornton recorded his third assist on the game-winning goal and he picked up an empty-netter in game’s final minute, his first tally of the season. With four points on the night, Thornton is now the NHL’s scoring leader with nine points on the year.
In the offseason, some suggested the Sharks needed a shakeup to return to the top of the Western Conference standings this season. But right now, the familiar faces are leading way.
“They’re clicking,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “They had big nights tonight, but teams are going to count on their big guys to get the job done and ours have been producing right now.”
Despite a 3-0 start, McLellan said the club still has some wrinkles to iron out. The team surrendered two short-handed goals and it now ranks 26th in the league on the penalty kill at 64.3 percent. While it’s a small sample size, the statistic is somewhat discouraging because the Sharks finished 29th in that category last season.
“I thought game management tonight wasn’t quite as good as it was in the first two games,” McLellan said. “I thought shift length got a little bit long. I thought our changes were sloppy and they were springing guys in behind us, so that can improve.”
Defenseman Matthew Irwin picked up his first NHL point on the Sharks second goal. McLellan said he is impressed with rookie’s play through three games.
“He looks like he belongs doesn’t he? He’s played extremely well since he’s been here,” he said. “Not afraid to jump up. He used his legs, he used his speed, created a scoring opportunity for us to get back in the game.”
Logan Couture scored the game’s first goal on the power play in the first period and he picked up an assist on Havlat’s goal in the third. He’s currently tied for fourth in scoring with seven points.
Couture said he never doubted Marleau’s ability to regain his scoring touch.
“I tell everyone who I come in contact with that Patty Marleau’s the best player, most skilled player that I’ve ever practiced with,” he said. “He’s just got everything: speed, shot, skill. He’s showed at the start of this year.”