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Monday, May 9, 2011
'Gutless'? No, but Patrick Marleau must score for Sharks

By Pierre LeBrun

DETROIT -- Patrick Marleau is not gutless, but he is pointless.

Perhaps lost in TV analyst Jeremy Roenick's tweet heard 'round the hockey world (and in the ensuing cyberspace fallout) is that the veteran San Jose Sharks forward is indeed struggling in this round without a point in five games against the Red Wings. And the struggles come despite productive performances from linemates Joe Thornton and Devin Setoguchi.

The evidence is damning.

Why is it that every time the Sharks hit a bump in the playoff road, our collective gaze almost always zeroes in on Marleau? Well, because he makes a lot of money, but more often than not, he has failed to deliver in the playoffs.

Patrick Marleau
Patrick Marleau has zero points in the second round against the Red Wings.

He's doing some good things in this series. He's playing well defensively, killing penalties; heck, he's even blocking shots. But those are things that the checkers on the team making chump change can deliver. The Sharks need their highly paid sniper to find the back of the net.

It wasn't an issue when Marleau posted two goals and three assists against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round or when the Sharks were up 3-0 in this Western Conference semifinals series. But two straight defeats against the Red Wings have exposed some truths on a Sharks team that never fails to impress and disappoint you come playoff time.

Detroit has found more willing contributors in recent games. Daniel Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi, in particular, have come on board with a pair of effective games. Now, the Sharks have to respond with more contributors in Tuesday night's Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena, and it starts with Marleau.

We credit Marleau for never ducking the media heat. He faces the music every time and greets the same old questions with polite answers. A lot of guys in his shoes would hide in the showers or dressing room. He does not. Just once we'd like to see him snap with the media to show some of that fire that surely must exist. He's so darn courteous with the very same people who carve him every spring, it makes you cringe sometimes when you once again single him out. And normally, when the annual Marleau carving takes place, he has his sidekick Thornton to share the wounds. Not this time. Thornton has answered the bell in these playoffs with the best two-way hockey of his career. Right now, Marleau isn't delivering the bacon.

Marleau wants to score. He's trying. But the shots are just not going in right now. He needs to make himself more visible near the blue paint in the crease. He needs to fight for better space on the ice and give Thornton nicer options for the pass.

Marleau is streaky. Last season, he was largely silent through the first round against Colorado and early on against Detroit before scoring a huge overtime winner in Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena and leading the Sharks in scoring in the team's four-game series loss against Chicago in the West finals. (In all, he had 13 points in 14 postseason games in 2010.)

Now, it's time for him to get streaky again if the Sharks are going to finish off the Wings and give themselves their best possible chance in the Western Conference finals.

Gutless? Don't think so. He wants to win. He's a good teammate. He gave up the "C" without rocking the boat and put the team's needs ahead of his.

At the end of the day, however, he's paid to score goals. And that needs to happen starting Tuesday night.