Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton were reunited on the top line for San Jose in game five, and it worked! Thornton had a goal and two assists and Marleau, who already had an assist, added the game-winning goal on Thornton's overtime wraparound attempt that playoff rookie Jonas Hiller couldn't cover.
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It has been pointed out in the media that Todd McLellan called his two star players in his office after game four to discuss putting them back together on the same line, and asking them who they wanted to play with as the third forward. Before we start to make too much of this incident, consider this: coaches at all levels routinely have meetings like this with players. They need to know how things are working. Chemistry in hockey is the most important x-factor. Guys need to trust each other or they won't work together. Unlike in basketball, where Kobe Bryant can drop 88 points and almost win a game single-handedly, hockey players just don't put forth great individual efforts for a full game and expect to win. They need a teammate somewhere doing something to distract the defense or to create turnovers. Yes, there are unique players like Gretzky and Jagr and Mario who could take over a game, but not the way it is in other sports. You need chemistry to make a line effective.
As for the effectiveness of the Marleau-Thornton-Devon Setoguchi line, time will tell. What I did see in Saturday's game five was that the best defense for the Sharks against the Ryan-Getzlaf-Corey Perry-Bobby Ryan line was the equally talented Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi line. Those three forced the Ducks to play in their own zone for long stretches in the first and second period.
It is a mistake we often see rookie coaches making. They worry about their top guys going against an opponant's top guys so they split up their top guys for a better matchup rather than take advantage of home-ice and last change. Michel Therrien tried the same thing with Pittsburgh last year, only to find that the best defense for Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk was Sidney Crosbey and Evgeni Malkin, guys that could take the Red Wings offense and shove it right back in their faces. In the end, the Penguins were outplayed by a better team. But that doesn't change the message.
As for me, I'd gladly put Marleau and Thornton on the ice against any team's top guys. I'll trust them to at least play solid defense and create turnovers. They might even break a few heads if they get chances to line up some quality hits (or shots on the goalie. Hey Hiller, how's your head feel?).
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