The San Jose Sharks did not play with one another overseas during the NHL lockout. In fact, Logan Couture and Joe Thornton actually played against each other when Couture’s Geneva-Servette played Thornton’s HC Davos in Switzerland in October 2012.
Evidently, the lockout did not allow for the rust to pile up during the layoff, as the Sharks’ top two lines have been near unstoppable in the first seven games of the lockout-shortened NHL season.
In particular, Thornton, Marleau and Pavelski are all among the top of the NHL’s stats leaders. All three place in the top five in scoring through seven games, with Marleau standing out as the leader in goals (9) and second in points (14).
However, the notable first line has always had its own bit of chemistry and ability to complement one another. Thornton, Marleau and Pavelski have played together on the same line on-and-off since the start of the 2011-12 season and at times before that as well.
While Marleau has benefited the most from the chemistry this season, Pavelski is starting to find his way into the superstar fold. He has quietly tallied four goals and eight assists, with four goals in his last three games.
Head coach Todd McLellan, in an interview with HNIC radio in Canada during the offseason, said the biggest priority for the Sharks during the lockout and early in the regular season was for the team’s chemistry to grow and the lines to connect—something that did not occur in the 2011-12 NHL playoffs and for most of the 2011-12 regular season.
“I think we need to come together a little better as a team this year than we did last year. Two years prior to that, we went to the final four, and we had a really good team environment and team unity was real strong. I thought last year there were times where guys cared a little too much and did things on their own. I have a huge responsibility as a coach to make sure we bring it all together.
“We'll have a chance with some of our new additions, some kids from our minor league team, to come in a gel quickly, and then go from there.”
It did not take long.
Whether or not rust has been a factor throughout the NHL is up for debate, but the Sharks have certainly not stumbled out of the gate so far.
The team’s chemistry, which was a large priority during the offseason, is a big reason for that, and it helps when players like Thornton, Marleau and Pavelski have played together for so long. They know each others' tendencies on the ice, and the entire team has benefited from it.
The top line’s production has been known to waver, though. Thornton and Marleau, in particular, have disappeared at times on the ice in certain situations, including the playoffs.
This season, however, may be different. The Sharks have new coaching, a new culture in the locker room and a new game plan out on the ice that has paid dividends for the entire team both on the stat sheet and in the win column.
The Sharks will stumble at points during the season, as most teams do, but San Jose’s top line is quickly regaining the superstar reputation it once had, and it may be hard to stop for lengthy periods of time this year. Credit that to McLellan’s urgency for chemistry out on the ice and the new mindset in San Jose.
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