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"C" Minus
Michael Farber
October 20, 2008
After costly gaffes in two straight postseasons, is Patrick Marleau the right man to captain the Sharks?
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October 20, 2008

"c" Minus

After costly gaffes in two straight postseasons, is Patrick Marleau the right man to captain the Sharks?

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DALLAS CENTER Mike Modano didn't realize anything out of the ordinary had occurred until the next day at a Stars video session when his teammates began hooting at the image of Sharks captain Patrick Marleau. In the playoffs a captain is supposed to step up, to borrow a mindless sports-talk phrase, but in Game 1 of a second-round series last April, Marleau had stepped up with both feet, bunny-hopping over Modano's point shot that skimmed the ice as it threaded through a thicket of legs and got past goalie Evgeni Nabokov for Dallas's first goal in a 3--2 win. (The Stars would take the series in six games.) Leaping is an acceptable autonomic response for, say, a Green Bay Packer, but not for the leader of a hockey team that can't seem to get out of its own way in the playoffs.

Marleau's jump was a potential reputation-killer, especially because he'd been caught out of position in the last minute of a playoff game against Detroit the previous spring, a gaffe that led to a Wings goal and changed the course of the series. With a new coach in San Jose, former Detroit assistant Todd McLellan, this off-season seemed the perfect time to relieve Marleau of the burden of the captaincy and give it to Joe Thornton, who, as a Bruins captain, once played a seven-game series with torn rib cartilage. But when the Sharks opened the season last Thursday—Marleau had an assist in a win over Anaheim—the C was affixed as firmly as ever to Marleau's number 12 sweater.

"I'm comfortable enough with Patty as captain," said McLellan. "And I'm confident enough he'll make the right decisions based on the needs of the team."

Marleau, 29, is often described as the whole package—the 6'2", 220-pound center "might be the fastest skater in the league," Thornton says—but like a nesting doll, he has several layers. For all the flak Marleau's caught for his untimely brain cramps, his 24 playoff goals since 2004 are second (with Calgary winger Jarome Iginla's) to Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg's. And after getting vaporized by the Flames' Cory Sarich in Game 3 of last season's first round, Marleau played some of his most determined hockey, mitigating a miserable regular season in which he scored only 19 goals and had a −19 rating. His play then was so spotty that he addressed Sharks players in February, excoriating himself and vowing to do better. According to Thornton, Marleau earned currency with that show of leadership.

As for seeming to avoid rather than block Modano's shot, Marleau says he was too far from Modano's release (25 feet) and was anticipating a rising shot, although presumably the puck would have struck his shin or thigh pad in any case. Said Sharks forward Jeremy Roenick last week, "It's a situation he would have taken back if he could, but [when Modano] winds up you think first about your well-being."

McLellan decided to wipe the slate clean. "I believe he'll have a good year," the coach said of Marleau. "I see him smiling a lot. I think that will translate into positive results." Coaching a Stanley Cup contender, McLellan better be right.

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