Patrick Marleau has had quiet playoffs before.
As a franchise star thrust into the spotlight at age 18, he's faced his share of scrutiny and ups and downs in 13 postseasons with the San Jose Sharks, who carry the label of a contender that never manages to reach that next level. Sometimes the criticism has been fair, and sometimes not, but Marleau's long tenure with the team associates him with all of them. Playoff hockey is hard and unforgiving like that.
Now through four games and a 3-1 series deficit at the hands of the St. Louis Blues, familiar Sharks playoff demons have arisen and Marleau's quiet series stands out. The Sharks are one loss from elimination, and Marleau remains missing from the score sheet.
Sharks coach Todd McClellan moved Marleau back to center for Game 4, a 2-1 loss, reasoning that it would get Marleau more engaged in all areas of the rink. Indeed Marleau was more noticeable in Game 4, but not strictly for the right reasons. He entered the game with zero points and five shots in the series; he exited having added two additional shots and one very bad penalty to his ledger.
Speaking generally of his lineup changes, McClellan called Game 4 his club's best effort of the series but noted, "You can't take consolation in having a good game, not in the playoffs. You've got to find ways to win."
The shakeup meant the Sharks loaded up on power for their top line with Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, and that line generated chances and possession all night long. In theory, if Marleau breaks even, maybe poses a secondary threat, then the move has its desired effect.
No theory can account for Marleau's worst move of the night, at the worst possible time. With the Sharks mounting increasing pressure for half the game to erase the Blues' fragile one-goal lead, the Sharks drew another third-period penalty that set up their dangerous power play. With key Blues defenseman Barret Jackman in the box, the Sharks went to work with the man advantage. So far, so good.
Then inexplicably, Marleau checked Kris Russell from behind into the boards. Not only was the puck already down low in the Blues zone, but Russell didn't even have it. The borderline dangerous hit was also blatant interference and a bizarre loss of sense on Marleau's part.
Gone was the Sharks power play, and as luck would have it, a Blues power-play goal soon followed. Andy McDonald's insurance goal came off a fortunate bounce, against the run of play, because that's how these things go. Instead of capitalizing on half a game's worth of good work and tying the game, the Sharks were down 2-0 with less than 10 minutes to go against the stingiest defense in the NHL.
Naturally, the Sharks did score a late goal -- Joe Thornton came through with 1:07 left -- making Marleau's mistake all the more glaring and arguably the difference in the game.
Sometimes you have a quiet four games. Marleau still has time to make an impact in this series. But when you're enduring a scoreless slump like this, showing up on the game sheet in this way, for this reason, is the worst-case scenario. It's the kind of thing that awakens all the old familiar demons.