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How Patrick Marleau leaving Sharks before helps Penguins transition

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USATSI

How Patrick Marleau leaving Sharks before helps Penguins transition

Patrick Marleau had already done the emotional goodbye before he left the Sharks at the trade deadline. 

Marleau signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent in 2017, signing a three-year contract with the "Original Six" club to leave San Jose, the only NHL city he'd ever known. When he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins ahead of this year's trade deadline, Marleau found adjusting to a new locker room much easier the second time around.

"I think what it really helped was with that anxiety or nervousness when you first come to a new team," Marleau told The Athletic's Rob Rossi on Wednesday. "You try to get over that really quickly. You know it’s eventually gonna work out. So, I think doing it before helped me a little bit fit into this room."

The 40-year-old was unsigned at the start of the regular season after an offseason trade to -- and subsequent buyout by -- the Carolina Hurricanes. Marleau officially signed with the Sharks on Oct. 8, scoring a pair of goals in his first game back with San Jose. 

He added eight more -- and 10 assists -- in 57 additional games with the Sharks, serving as a solid depth forward for a struggling team largely devoid of them. The Sharks, facing the steepest of uphill climbs into an unlikely playoff berth, traded Marleau to the Penguins so he could pursue his first Stanley Cup ring. Marleau has an assist in his first four games with Penguins, and Pittsburgh picked up its first win with him Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators. 

[RELATED: Sharks reportedly lock up Simek, agree to contract extension]

Though Marleau had previously left San Jose, he'd never joined a team midseason before his trade last month. The 22-year NHL veteran said joining a group led by three-time Stanley Cup winners Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin made the transition even smoother.

"What helps is these guys are really good," Marleau said. "But you know it’s important to be in a good position going into the playoffs. That’s where the focus has to be. Coming in, I’m just trying to do my thing and help as much as I can. But it’s definitely great to be with a group that always has that goal. They know what they’re looking for and playing for here in Pittsburgh. It was kind of tough being on the outside looking in (at the playoff chase) for so many nights. It wasn’t something I was used to. That chase is obviously important to me."

Marleau's hope this season was to win a Cup with the Sharks, but now he gets a chance with the Penguins. He told reporters in San Jose last week that he thought "maybe the door is open for me to come back" to the Sharks for another season. That transition shouldn't be difficult, either, as Marleau already has done the emotional return, too.

Sharks, Evander Kane reminding NHL who they are during winning streak

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AP

Sharks, Evander Kane reminding NHL who they are during winning streak

The Sharks are riding their first three-game winning streak since before Thanksgiving, and Evander Kane is a major reason why.

In Thursday's 3-2 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils, he had the primary assist on Logan Couture's game-winning goal.

In Saturday's 5-0 blowout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kane got the scoring barrage started with the game's opening goal.

Then, in Tuesday's impressive 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, he opened the scoring once again, and added an insurance marker in the third period for good measure.

The standings might not reflect it, but as Kane and San Jose have proven over the first three games of its current undefeated homestand, it would be unwise to overlook the Sharks on the schedule.

"We obviously haven't had the type of success we wanted this year for whatever reason, but you look at us on paper, even with some of the guys we have out of our lineup, we're a pretty darn good team," Kane said after the win over Toronto. "On paper. We've just got to put it together. We've had a lot of success over the years here, and we just want to finish the year off on a strong note and put a little reminder out that we're still the San Jose Sharks and we're going to be tough to beat every night."

Outside of an awful first period against the Devils, the Sharks have lived up to Kane's words. They've outscored their opponents 13-4 over the last three games, and scored nine unanswered goals stretching from the second period of the win over New Jersey through the first period of Tuesday's victory.

While the lowly Devils aren't a playoff team, both the Penguins and Maple Leafs are very likely to qualify for the postseason and would have to be considered two of the more talented teams in the league. Despite missing several key players, San Jose has taken each of their best punches, and then delivered significant blows to both.

"I think we've kind of made up our minds as a group, as players, that we want to -- I said it the other game -- ruin some seasons for some teams and be as destructive as we possibly can down the stretch," Kane explained.

The Sharks don't have a playoff berth to realistically fight for, but they don't lack for motivation. From a team perspective, in addition to playing the role of spoiler, San Jose has 16 more regular-season games with which to generate momentum for next season. And there are individual motivations, too. Some players are trying to prove they belong at the NHL level, while others, like goaltender Martin Jones, are hoping to more permanently establish themselves in the lineup.

Jones, who has started all three wins on the homestand, appears to be finding a groove and is currently playing as well as he has all season.

[RELATED: Jones seizing control of Sharks' ongoing goalie competition]

"When he's on the top of his game like he has been these last three, we're a real hard team to beat," Kane said of Jones. "We're going to make mistakes, and when he can bail us out, and when we can give him some run support, too -- which we haven't done a good job of this year -- we're a top team in the league. We just haven't shown it this year consistently enough."

Indeed, it's quite likely too little, too late for San Jose. The combination of injuries to key players and sheer bad luck created a hole that the team doesn't appear to have enough remaining time to dig out of. Too often this season did San Jose not look anything like the Sharks we're used to.

Lately, though, they're remembering who they are.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in exciting 5-2 win over Maple Leafs

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in exciting 5-2 win over Maple Leafs

BOX SCORE

In a thoroughly entertaining, back-and-forth game, the Sharks continued their recent stretch of strong play with a 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night at SAP Center. Stefan Noesen scored the game-winner early in the third period and Martin Jones made several incredible saves in net to preserve the victory.

Against the uber-talented Maple Leafs, San Jose got contributions from throughout its lineup, with the first and fourth lines each scoring multiple goals. Evander Kane was flying all night long, and added two more goals to his team-leading total.

Jones got his third consecutive start in goal, and rewarded interim coach Bob Boughner with a highlight-reel performance that included a number of jaw-dropping saves. With the win, the Sharks are now halfway through an undefeated six-game homestand.

Here are three takeaways from San Jose's second straight win over an Eastern Conference contender:

Talent mismatch 

The Sharks had the higher quantity of goals in the game, but the talent mismatch between the two teams was evident in how the Maple Leafs scored theirs. Toronto has quite a stable of extremely talented forwards, and they left their mark on the night.

San Jose took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, but that was erased when Auston Matthews scored his 46th goal of the season, which ranks as the second most in the NHL. Tuesday marked Matthews' seventh career game against the Sharks, and the San Ramon native has now accounted for eight goals in those contests, including at least one in each game.

Later in the second frame, Matthews was one-upped by his linemate Mitch Marner, who went between the legs for a goal that you'll be seeing on all the highlight shows for plenty of time to come.

Toronto certainly had the quality. San Jose had the advantage where it mattered, though.

Quite a response

Just over a minute after Matthews tied things up, the Sharks went back in front thanks to Antti Suomela's first goal of the season. 

It was exactly the kind of response that had been lacking throughout much of San Jose's struggles this season. All night long, the Sharks kept the pressure on, and didn't allow Toronto to carry the play for many extended stretches.

With the score tied entering the third, the game was hanging in the balance -- temporarily, that is. Suomela got the only assist on Noesen's game-winning goal less than six minutes into the frame, and 50 seconds later, Kane doubled San Jose's advantage. From that point on, whenever Toronto threatened, Jones had an answer.

The Maple Leafs are fighting for playoff positioning. The Sharks aren't. You wouldn't have been able to tell by the fight San Jose showed Tuesday night.

[RELATED: How health scare altered John McCarthy's Barracuda career]

Ample motivation

While the Sharks' three-game winning streak is admittedly a small sample size, it's certainly better than the alternative. San Jose could have thrown in the towel and given up on the season a while ago -- and at times, it looked like the team might have done so -- but based on the last week, it's abundantly clear the Sharks are taking this opportunity seriously, even if it's not the one they hoped to have.

Suomela's performance was the latest example of some of San Jose's younger forwards showing signs of life. Jones has been on quite a roll, and Tuesday might have been his most promising showcase yet. For those who next season isn't enough of a motivating factor, playing the role of spoiler appears to be doing the trick.

There are 16 games remaining on the Sharks' regular-season schedule. They're not going to the playoffs, but they still have plenty left to play for.