SAN JOSE, Calif. - Patrick Marleau isn't waiting until after the trade deadline this time to play his best hockey for the unbeaten San Jose Sharks.
Marleau scored two goals, Evgeni Nabokov made 31 saves and the Sharks kept new coach Todd McLellan perfect through four games with a 5-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.
Jonathan Cheechoo had one of San Jose's two short-handed goals, and Milan Michalek had a power-play score while the Sharks overcame two early deficits. A three-goal flurry in the second period and two more quick scores in the third overwhelmed the Columbus defence and goalie Pascal Leclaire, who made 19 saves before getting yanked.
After allowing two early power-play goals by the Blue Jackets, the Sharks thrived on special teams with ample help from Marleau, who has four points in four games while excelling as a penalty killer and forechecker. The San Jose captain scored the go-ahead goal on his own rebound in the second period before adding another short-handed score in the third.
It's nothing like Marleau's struggles in the 2007 post-season or his painfully slow start to last season, when rampant trade rumours and his timid play compounded to cause a slump that didn't end until the trade deadline passed.
"I think he's got his full confidence back," said Mike Grier, who stole a puck and fed Marleau for his short-handed goal in the third period. "When you've got his talent and his skill, it's only a matter of time. He took some unfair criticism last year, and when people say things about you, it takes a toll."
Marleau, who has four points in four games, shrugs off any analysis of his mental state in the laid-back, Saskatchewan-farm-boy style that masks his competitive vibe.
"It's nice to get those (goals), but 4-0 is a pretty good feeling right now," said Marleau, the team's career scoring leader. "It's a good feeling in the room here. As a team, it just goes to show that everybody is kind of buying in here. We still have to work on it and build off it, but it's definitely a great feeling."
The Sharks are off to the best start in franchise history, but it's far too early to impress McLellan, the first NHL coach to go 4-0 to start his debut season since Peter Laviolette did it with the New York Islanders in 2001. San Jose has outscored its first four opponents 13-4.
"There are a whole lot of teams that are going to have four-game winning streaks," McLellan said. "Ours just happened at the start of the year."
Marc-Edouard Vlasic also scored and Joe Thornton had two assists in San Jose's fourth straight win over the Blue Jackets, who finished a season-opening three-game road trip with two losses. Columbus has won just once in 15 tries at the Shark Tank in franchise history.
Kristian Huselius and Christian Backman scored power-play goals for the Blue Jackets, who doubled the total number of goals scored against the Sharks this season, but made too many elementary mistakes on defence against the Sharks' talented forwards.
"Those mistakes will cost you every time against a good team like San Jose," Huselius said. "Other than the short-handed goals, I thought we played well. It was a lack of communication for us to allow those short-handed goals. That's going to happen. We had more shots and more chances than they did, but we made too many mistakes."
Just 77 seconds after Michalek scored on a shot that ricocheted off Columbus' Mike Commodore in the second period, Marleau followed his own shot through Columbus' defensive disarray and easily slid it past Leclaire for his first goal of the season.
Shortly after Marleau's second goal, Thornton stole a sloppy Columbus exchange behind its own net and got the puck to Vlasic in front for his first goal. The Blue Jackets then pulled Leclaire for Fredrik Norrena, who got his first action of the season.
"We didn't communicate very well," Leclaire said. "It happened too many times tonight. It's no biggie. We'll bounce back and forget about this one. There are just too many games in a season to worry about this one."
Notes: Jeremy Roenick, the Sharks' 38-year-old centre, got into a dustup in the closing minutes with Columbus' 21-year-old rookie Derek Dorsett, who was in his second NHL game. Both got misconduct penalties. ... Columbus C Michael Peca missed his second game under indefinite suspension after bumping an official in the opener against Dallas. ... The Jackets finally will get their home opener Friday night against Nashville.