There's a pretty good chance that in the time it takes to read this sentence, Patrick Marleau will have scored another goal.
Through five games, Marleau has nine goals and three game-winners for the undefeated San Jose Sharks, who improved to 5-0-0 on Sunday night with a 4-1 victory against the Vancouver Canucks. His dominance over the season's first nine days resulted in Marleau being named First Star of the week by the NHL.
Just how preposterous has Marleau's start been? Consider some of these facts:
-Marleau's nine goals match the totals of one team (Colorado) and exceed that of three teams with eight goals (Columbus, Florida, Los Angeles)
-Marleau has five power-play goals. That either matches or exceeds the total of 21 teams.
-Marleau has averaged 17:33 of ice time per game this season, which ranks him a mere 110th among forwards. He's averaging about a goal for every 9:45 he's on the ice.
-With four multi-goal games to start the season, he became the second person in NHL history to accomplish the feat, following Ottawa's Cy Denneny during the 1917-18 season.
Playing on a line with Joe Thornton (three goals, 10 assists) and Joe Pavelski (nine goals, four assists), Marleau has been the beneficiary of some unmatched chemistry and terrific passing that has made most of his goals of the tap-in variety.
How does Marleau, who didn't go overseas to play hockey during the work stoppage, explain his nearly unprecedented hot start?
Really, he can't.
"You try not to dissect it too much," Marleau said, "but to get off to a start like this at the start of a season is something special. Obviously I'm not doing it alone. Jumbo has been setting me up and I've had a lot of empty nets. That's a big key for myself."
None of Marleau's nine goals can be classified as empty-net goals, but the passing of Thornton has led to a lot of goals that involved little more than sweeping the puck into a vacated net. But to Marleau's credit, he's been living in the blue paint in the early going. Five of his nine goals have come from inside of 10 feet and none of have come from a distance greater than 20 feet.
Marleau stayed in San Jose during the work stoppage but also traveled to Scottsdale, Ariz., to participate in a camp with some of the NHL's top players. Some of the big names at the camp included Sidney Crosby, Ryan Miller, Shane Doan and Ryan Whitney. There's no definitive answer for why Marleau is on pace for 86 goals this season, but he believes getting to work on his individual skills with the sport's top talents was extremely helpful.
"Those camps were big for me," Marleau said. "Skating around (San Jose), we had a handful of guys, but when you skate with almost like 20-something NHL guys that are elite-caliber skill-wise and they're all competing and they don't know when the season starts, that kept me on edge a little bit. That's where you worked on some of those skills, shooting, taking pucks out of the corners. That's where it helped me keep sharp.
"You get to work on your skills a little more when you have a little more time on it. It's not system-like. Just doing different things like stickhandling, working on shooting and things like that. There's not really one thing I can pinpoint. That might be one of the reasons. Who knows? But it's what I tried doing in the time off."
There's no denying that Thornton has had a large say in Marleau's start. The Sharks captain spent the lockout playing for Davos in the Swiss League, just like he did during the 2004-05 work stoppage. In the season that followed, Thornton had 29 goals and 96 assists split between the Boston Bruins and Sharks, and captured the Hart Trophy.
Thornton is looking like an MVP again, leading the League in assists (10) and tying for the lead in points with Marleau at 13.
Just like Marleau, Thornton isn't sure why his extended offseason regimen is paying such dividends now, but he offered some theories.
"Whatever it is, it works for me," Thornton said. "It's just a different game over there. I pretty much played wing over there. With the big ice, I think it helps the big guys get their legs moving. It makes you skate. The practices over here are more team-oriented. Over there, everything is more about the skill, the individual skill.
"It keeps you in shape and it keeps you playing. Whatever it is, it's working for me."
In any other season, Pavelski's 10 points in five games could be good for the League lead, but it's only the third-best total on the Sharks. But his importance to Marleau's and Thornton's success can't be understated.
Pavelski is a skilled player, but not quite at the level of Marleau and Thornton. The 28-year-old has won 57.1 percent of his faceoffs (Thornton has won 58.2 percent), which goes a long way toward establishing puck possession.
It also doesn't hurt that Pavelski, Marleau and Thornton have been teammates since 2006, providing a familiarity some teams are lacking after a shortened training camp and no preseason games.
"Joe just does a lot of little things right," Thornton said. "If me and Patty are in on the forecheck, he's always the third guy back. He's kind of a rover for us. He does a lot of the hard work for us. He's in the corners. He takes a lot of faceoffs for our line. Whatever we need him to do, he does. You always find him in the hard areas of the rink. He's always near the front of the net or digging the puck out of the corners for us. He brings real grit to our line."
"We played together for how many years on and off again," Marleau said. "To have that familiarity to start a short season, a short training camp, I think it's given us an edge early on. It's something that we can still build on and get better as a line, but things are going really well right now."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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