Patrick Marleau

Sharks' Patrick Marleau defies laws of time, has Gordie Howe in sights

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AP

Sharks' Patrick Marleau defies laws of time, has Gordie Howe in sights

SAN JOSE -- Early in the second period Saturday night, Sharks defenseman Brent Burns launched a slapshot from the point, just as the penalized Dallas Stars player was coming out of the box.

The powerful shot couldn't be contained by Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin, and the rebound eventually got poked over to his right side where a Sharks player was waiting to stuff it into the night.

Stuff it, he did, as Patrick Marleau scored one of the easier goals he has ever had in his 22-year NHL career. It wasn't a noteworthy goal, aside from the fact that in came in his 1,700th career game and it proved to be the game-winner.

Okay, so maybe it was pretty noteworthy.

Simply by participating in Saturday's game at SAP Center, Marleau became the fifth player in NHL history to appear in 1,700 career games. Of the five players to accomplish the feat, he is the only one to score within the milestone game.

"That's unbelievable," Burns said of Marleau after San Jose's 2-1 win. "To do what he has done, it's incredible. A lot of hard work, luck ... I can't say enough about that guy. Off the ice, on the ice ... what he does, it's incredible."

From his first shift to his last, Marleau was flying around the ice. He admitted afterward that the occasion might have had something to do with it.

"It's one of those milestone games, so you've got a little extra energy, a little extra jump," he explained. "It's nice getting that one on the board tonight and helping the team offensively."

On a night when former captain Joe Pavelski was in the spotlight, Marleau managed to steal some of it from his long-time friend and ex-teammate. His goal put San Jose in front, and the Sharks seemed to build confidence from that point forward. Yes, his offensive contribution was a big help, but he showed he is still capable of contributing an all-around game.

"That's vintage Marleau tonight," Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner said after the victory. "You see his skating at 40 years old. You can see he has that separation speed. I think that he battled hard on the boards -- he made some great plays on the wall -- scores a goal, so real happy for him. 

"It was a good night. You could tell the building had a lot of energy. It was a great ceremony for [Pavelski], and I thought that Patty got his fair due. So it was a good night all around."

[RELATED: Watch Pavelski get standing ovation before Sharks-Stars]

While Marleau provided the game-winning goal, San Jose netminder Aaron Dell came through with multiple game-saving stops in the final minutes to secure the much-needed win. Even from the opposite side of the ice, he can't help but notice how Marleau continues to defy the laws of time.

"He's still the same player he always was," Dell said. "I don't think he has lost a step at all. It's amazing that he can still play at this age. I remember watching him as a kid and stuff like that, so it's pretty cool to be playing alongside him and [Joe Thornton]. It's quite a feat, really, to be even close to what they are."

Between Marleau and Thornton, they have 44 combined NHL seasons and 3,313 games between them. The 40-year-olds are each one of 14 players in league history to appear in four different decades, and while they no longer are the prolific superstars they were in their primes, you don't have to look further than San Jose's back-to-back wins to observe they still have plenty left in the tank. Just like Marleau's tally against the Stars, Thornton's goal Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets proved to be the game-winner.

"Every day you watch those two guys, you sort of shake your head," Boughner said with a laugh. "It's just how they do it. And it's nice to have them on your side, for sure."

Marleau wasn't on the Sharks' side as recently as the summer, but a combination of circumstances opened the door for his return to the franchise, which has been a feel-good storyline in a season that hasn't had many of them. It is only fitting and proper that he reached the 1,700-game milestone in a San Jose uniform, and he hasn't closed the door and pursuing another one.

After Saturday night, Marleau now trails Gordie Howe by only 67 games for the most all-time in NHL history. He would have to return for a 23rd season in order to eclipse that record, and while Marleau admitted that it's something he has thought about, he isn't looking that far ahead.

"It crosses your mind, but obviously you have to take it one game at a time," Marleau said of chasing Howe. "I hate saying that, but that's the way it is, and that's the way it has always been."

After playing 1,700 games, one could hardly blame Marleau for his one-game-at-a-time approach. But if Saturday night was any indication, he definitely has a shot at standing alone atop that all-time games-played list.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in memorable 2-1 win over Stars

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USATSI

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in memorable 2-1 win over Stars

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Facing the Dallas Stars for the first time this season on Saturday night, the Sharks posted their second straight win at SAP Center, this time by a score of 2-1. San Jose fell behind early, as the Stars scored within first two minutes of the game, but goalie Aaron Dell didn't let anything past him for the remainder of the contest while the Sharks stormed back.

It was a memorable night for Sharks fans, as not one but two former captains hit milestones. One was facing his former team for the very first time, while the other played in his 1,700th career game.

With the win, San Jose achieved the maximum four possible points on this brief two-game homestand.

Here are the takeaways from a tightly-fought, entertaining game:

The former captain

Even before he took the ice Saturday night, all eyes were on Joe Pavelski. The Stars' forward returned to the only arena he had ever called home prior to the current season, and conceded that it would be a tad "awkward" to face the teal sweaters rather than be wearing one. There was no awkwardness whatsover, though, when a video tribute covering memories from Pavelski's 13 seasons with the Sharks was played on the jumbotron before puck drop. The SAP Center crowd responded with a very long, very loud standing ovation, and gave him several loud cheers at different points of the game.

Once the game started, however, Pavelski was all business -- as you'd expect. He played over 18 minutes of ice time, won nearly two-thirds of his face-offs, recorded two shots on goal and blocked three. San Jose managed to keep him off the scoresheet, but there definitely were plays he made that looked awfully familiar.

Fitting with the theme of the night, Sharks forward Stefan Noesen appeared to score a very Pavelski-like goal in the first period with a tip-in deflection, but it was immediately waved off due to a high touch.

The other former captain

The spotlight was on Pavelski, but Patrick Marleau stole some of it.

He became just the fifth player in NHL history to play in 1,700 career games, but Marleau wasn't some uninvolved bystander. Quite the opposite, actually. He was flying around the ice all night, and was rewarded for his efforts when he punched in a rebound in the second period to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead. Of the players to appear in 1,700 games, Marleau is the only one to score in the milestone game.

He might not move quite like he used to, but Marleau can still absolutely fly. Not bad for a 40-year-old.

The alternate captain

The Sharks got a big scare when defenseman Brent Burns went to the locker room in the second period following a collision with Dallas winger Roope Hintz. Burns did not return to the ice for the remainder of the period, nor was he there for the start of the third period. He did return, however, midway through the third, and managed to come up with a couple big stops to keep San Jose in front.

After seeing the current captain Logan Couture suffer a fractured ankle a couple games ago, the Sharks can ill afford to lose another major contributor for any period of time.

How Sharks have missed Joe Pavelski's presence both on and off the ice

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AP

How Sharks have missed Joe Pavelski's presence both on and off the ice

SAN JOSE -- Thursday was the rehearsal. Saturday is the real thing.

The Sharks welcomed back a former player in their win over the Blue Jackets on Thursday night, but no offense to Gus Nyquist -- it was just another game for San Jose.

The same cannot be said for Saturday night's bout against Joe Pavelski and the visiting Dallas Stars.

After playing 963 games in a Sharks uniform, Pavelski returns to SAP Center on Saturday night as a visiting player for the very first time. Arguably the most beloved captain in franchise history, Pavelski was signed by Dallas in free agency after he and the Sharks failed to reach a contract agreement. No ill will is harbored on either side -- quite the opposite, actually -- and his absence has been felt throughout what has been an atypically down season in San Jose.

Throughout Pavelski's 13 seasons with the Sharks, the team failed to qualify for the postseason only once and never posted a points percentage lower than 54.3 percent. Currently, San Jose is well off the pace to qualify for the playoffs and has totaled only 47.8 percent of its maximum possible points thus far. Part of the problem has been the offense, as the Sharks are scoring nearly one fewer goal per game this season (2.65) than they did last year (3.52). That might be the area where Pavelski's absence has been most evident, but the Sharks certainly have missed their former captain's presence off the ice, as well.

"A guy like that is very, very tough to replace," Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner said of Pavelski following San Jose's morning skate Saturday. "I think more than anything, it's the friendships and the bonds he had in the dressing room. And listening to some of the player's comments the last couple days about how hard he worked and how he prepared and how he kept guys accountable, you can never have enough guys like that.

"The guys that are doing it now have done a good job, but Pavs was a guy that everybody looked up to and had a lot of respect for."

It's not as if there's a leadership vacuum in San Jose's locker room this season. There's an ample number of veterans ready and willing to carry the torch, but with the Sharks in somewhat of a transitional phase, Pavelski remains a model for which some of the next wave of team leaders can still learn from.

"Being around [Joe Thornton] and [Patrick] Marleau, the guys have a couple great examples there," Boughner added. "More than anything, it's [Pavelski's] leadership. It's how he handles himself in the dressing room, in the community and things like that. I think guys like [Logan Couture] and [Tomas] Hertl and Timo Meier and [Kevin Labanc] -- those are the guys that could really try to emulate what kind of guy he was off the ice."

[RELATED: Pavelski believes skill, character will help Sharks rebound]

Right now, "off the ice" describes all that Couture is able to do. A fractured ankle suffered in Tuesday's loss to the St. Louis Blues will keep him out for several weeks, further exacerbating the Sharks' lack of offense, as he ranks fourth on the team in goals (14) and is tied for second in assists (22). Similar to Pavelski, the impact of Couture's absence is likely to be readily apparent before long, but as Boughner explained, it's no coincidence that San Jose's current captain took over the 'C' from the previous one.

"They're their own individuals when it comes to their games," Boughner said, "but [Couture] is probably the guy that you could say is responsible in all three zones and plays the right way and plays a lot like Pavs."

Neither Couture nor Pavelski will be wearing a Sharks sweater when San Jose takes the ice Saturday night. For everyone involved, that's going to take some getting used to.