So far in this year’s playoffs series with the Boston Bruins, we haven’t seen much out of Patrick Marleau. He has just the one assist so far, from the Game 1 rout of Boston by Toronto.
Last year we saw a lot more of out of him, and many fans aren’t expecting much out of him this time around. He has aged, and his play hasn’t been what we saw last year. His role has transitioned to a bottom-six veteran scorer. He has the skill to finish the play, but not the jump to get there, or so some would assume.
It’s important to remember, though, that there are a lot of reasons for hope that this will change.
In the 2018 playoffs, Patrick Marleau was able to score in bunches at the most opportune times. He had two goals in a critical Game 3, where the Leafs were down 2-0 in the series. He also scored two goals in the most critical game of the year, on the brink of elimination in Game 7.
Digest those highlights and remind yourself of this critical fact: Patrick Marleau is a hall-of-fame-worthy offensive talent. He’s scored 72 goals in 186 playoff games. He can bring the heat in the most important times, and just because he’s a bit older and a bit slower is no reason to expect he’d be incapable of doing the same now.
One of his biggest years was the 2003-04 run that took the Sharks to the Western Conference Final, with him scoring 12 points in 17 games as a spry 23 year-old. Another was the 2009-10 bid that took the Sharks back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since he helped them there in ’04. He scored a total of 16 game-winning goals that year, a record that stands alone among active NHLers, and is top 10 all-time in the NHL playoffs.
Stats above courtesy of hockey-reference.com
The Maple Leafs desperately need to put the last nail in the coffin of the Boston Bruins, and Playoff Paddy can be the man to do it.
Marleau has even been in the Cup Finals, and able to score on that dramatic stage. In his Cup Final debut in 2016 against the eventual-Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, he scored the following critical goal in Game 1:
Last year he was paired with Mitch Marner, who was absolutely exploding with offensive talent, culminating a fanastic second half of the year. In some part, Patrick Marleau was a beneficiary of that.
In the same way, you can say he has been a casualty of his linemates this time around. William Nylander has had to readjust to playing center due to the Nazem Kadri suspension, and the third musketeer here is a grinder with limited offensive creativity in Connor Brown. Nylander has been getting them into the zone, but the chemistry isn’t there yet for him to find Brown and Marleau at that critical moment where their sticks are free for a tap-in goal.
However, I want everyone to know that, just like Winter, it’s coming.
That trio has generated an Expected Goals For Percentage (xGF%) of 71.22%. That is incredible. Higher than the Johnsson/Matthews/Kapanen line at 48.12%, higher than Hyman-Tavares-Marner line at 55.36% and higher than the collective 4th line at 67.48% (how about that 4th line!! but that’s for another post).
Stats courtesy of naturalstattrick.com
For anyone not familiar with that statistic, it calculates the number of shots taken for and against while a player is on the ice, and then gives a boost to particular shots that are more dangerous depending on the location their taken from. A shot from the point is going to be considered less dangerous than a shot 4 feet in front of the goalie. This is adjustment is made to both the shots you take, and the shots taken against you, and then you have Expected Goals For (xGF) and Expected Goals Against (xGA). Using a percentage calculation like the equation below, you can find the balance of these two to create xGF%.
xGF% = xGF / (xGF + xGA)
The word “Expected” is important here, though. While having a high xGF% is great, it doesn’t help you until those expectations turn into reality. The value this number is that statistical regressions have shown that it does eventually turn into reality.
The caveat to this is that Expected Goals For Percentage doesn’t necessarily indicate a likelihood future scoring, but it does do so for Goals For Percentage (GF%). Goals For Percentage is exactly similar to Expected Goals For Percentage, just using a ratio of Goals For (GF) and Goals Against (GA) instead of their expected equivalents.
GF% = GF / (GF + GA)
So despite the fact that the Marleau-Nylander-Brown trio has only scored 1 goal, they’ve actually allowed none, giving them a GF% of 100%. It’s pretty difficult (technically impossible) to improve from there.
In the very near future, the Leafs will be pressing as hard as they have all season to finish this series off. They will need every player to be at their best as the charge from the Bruins comes.
It will take the combined efforts of the youth in Matthews, Marner, Nylander, the established Leafs in Gardiner, Rielly, Hyman, and the been-there-done-that presence of the veterans in Hainsey and Marleau to win this thing.
It is my opinion that Marleau will be able to help lead that charge forward, for all the reasons above. He has shown that historically, he can be that guy. His talent level is hall-of-fame worthy. And, his line is banging on the door of scoring. Tomorrow afternoon, for Game 6, we will see if that door can finally come crashing down.