The team's captain, beleaguered by criticism for last year's playoff failure and for much of a regular season that hardly met his standards, is coming on with a vengeance against the Calgary Flames.
"I've been in the league a long time, and I've played with a lot of players who had ups and downs and Patty has a lot of pressure," Sharks defenseman Craig Rivet said. "There's pressure from all around the league – 'Why this and why that and why has he not being doing this?' – Patty has been one of the most valuable assets and players even when he was struggling."
Marleau scored a goal and had an assist to extend his streak of scoring at least a point to a fifth straight game in the series as the Sharks moved to within one win of advancing with Thursday night's 4-3 victory over Calgary.
Marleau has taken the opportunity to start wiping away the disappointments of last spring when he was among those singled out for San Jose's meltdown against Detroit in the second round. Accusations of a rift between captain and coach followed, along with persistent trade rumors right through late February. Interestingly, as soon as the deadline passed, Marleau's subpar play picked up.
And it hasn't let up since.
"Patty is leading by example and you can't ask for anything more. I can't anyway," San Jose coach Ron Wilson said.
"He's a guy who has a very, very calm demeanor," Rivet added. "Our team has a calm demeanor and it's all because of our leadership. They are the people who make this engine tick. Patty has been incredible the whole series for us."
What Marleau is doing is using his size and speed. He's not playing a perimeter game, he's not looking to pick his spots. He's front and center, active in the corners, screening in front of the goal, making quick and smart decisions with the puck and being defensively responsible when a defenseman chooses to pinch.
"We had no questions," teammate Joe Thornton said. "This kid is a warrior and the bigger the game the better he plays. He's been a workhorse all series for us and he's playing great."
Marleau scored his second goal of the series – his first since getting rocked by Calgary defenseman Cory Sarich early in Game 3 – and it was a beauty. Skating most of the night on left wing alongside Thornton, Marleau took a cross-ice pass from the alternate captain and wristed a shot from the slot across his body that hit the top far corner over the left shoulder of Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
The shot the ex-Shark must have seen a few times in practice when he and Marleau were teammates still was unstoppable and gave the hosts a lead at 18:07 of the second period they would never relinquish.
"Patty was doing everything, forechecking, backchecking, winning faceoffs and he scored a great goal," Wilson said. "It really gave us a chance to breathe a bit going into the third period."
Marleau was at it in the third, too, when he blocked a shot and gathered the puck in quick fashion to break out 2-on-1 nearly midway through the period. He capped off the rush with a perfect feed to Jonathan Cheechoo, who scored the second of his two goals which stood as the eventual game-winner.
A key, too, is the series schedule. With two days off now before Sunday's Game 6, Wilson took advantage of the pending time off to dress 11 forwards and basically play just 10 most of the night (tough guy Jody Shelly logged just 1:35 of ice time). It seemed every time Calgary looked up there was Marleau, Thornton and all the rest of San Jose's top guns coming at them.
And while the series is far from over, this at least is what the Sharks were hoping to see not only from Marleau, but from all their top players including Thornton, Cheechoo and Evgeni Nabokov specifically.
"Internally and externally there's pressure, especially in the opening round," Wilson said. "Everywhere all you read is you're the team that's going to win the Stanley Cup or else. It's the team that's going to do it. They don't put one name on the Cup, they put everyone's name on it. And no one name is going to be in bold type or anything like that. And I think our team game is starting to return."
Marleau had such a difficult early portion of the season, but he quietly picked it up late. Marleau had points in 10 of his last 12 games, 19 points overall in the last 20 games and 30 points over the last 36 contests. And now he has two goals and six points in five games in the series. Does this begin to erase the bad memories of last postseason?
"I'm not really thinking about last year right now," Marleau said. "I think it's a good learning experience. And it's in the past."
Boy, is it ever.
- San Jose