When making your MVP predictions for the 2013 NHL season, did you include Patrick Marleau on your list? You can be honest – I didn't either.
Marleau, as well as the bulk of his San Jose teammates, carried rather small expectations into the year following the lockout. For the first time in a long time, seemingly no major outlet considered San Jose to be a true Stanley Cup contender. Now, just a handful of games into the new season, Marleau and his squad are making things look easy and making many NHL experts rethink their predictions.
Just how good has Marleau been? Historically good. After adding two more goals to his total on Saturday, January 25th, Marleau became the first player since the NHL's inaugural season in 1917-18 to start the year with four consecutive multiple-goal games.
On the year, Marleau now has an incredible 11 points in just four games. By comparison, Marleau didn't even light the lamp for the first time in 2011-12 until his sixth game. He didn't notch his 11th point in 2011-12 until his 13th game of the year.
As if Marleau's contributions weren't enough of a story, nearly the entire San Jose roster has started 2013 on the right foot. Joe Thornton also has 11 points with two goals and nine assists. Joe Pavelski (8 points), Logan Couture (7 points) and Dan Boyle (5 points) aren't too far off the pace.
The Sharks have dominated their first four games, winning by a margin of 19-7. Their power play has been clicking at a rate of 41.7%. Is it time to change our Stanley Cup predictions and our MVP predictions?
Maybe not quite yet.
The Sharks have busted through the gate but there are plenty of factors doubters can point to. San Jose's penalty killing unit has been pretty subpar, killing off just 68.8%. One has to imagine there offense will cool and unless they pick up their defensive play, this could be a weakness that other, stronger opponents will exploit. You can also make an argument that the opponents they have faced – Calgary, Edmonton, Phoenix and Colorado – aren't exactly NHL heavyweights. Finally, you can point to the fact the Sharks have had one luxury most NHL teams haven't had – rest.
San Jose's early schedule played out like this: Jan. 20th (@ Calgary), Jan. 22nd (@ Edmonton), Jan. 24th (vs. Phoenix) and Jan. 26th (vs. Colorado). While the Sharks play on Sunday, January 27th, you'll note that they haven't exactly been tested in terms of schedule. They haven't had a game on back-to-back nights during their 4-game streak and they haven't had to deal with that difficult of a schedule in terms of travel.
As we always say in articles of this type, it's early. Marleau's play is incredible and there's no need to downplay it or dispute it. However, as for San Jose as a whole, let's give it a bit more time before we consider them to be among the NHL's elite.