A teeming horde of media attended the Sharks' optional practice Friday. There wasn't much news to be had, but the press was treated to an authentic NHL postseason experience:
Trying in vain to locate Patrick Marleau.
Marleau had come and gone by the time access was granted to the team's locker room at Sharks Ice. Those who saw him say he looked better than he had Thursday night, when he was scratched from Game 1 of the Sharks-Detroit Red Wings playoff series with an undisclosed injury that was later downgraded to flu-like symptoms.
It was a surprising turn of events, announced just before game time, involving the Sharks' most confounding player at the most important time of year. Naturally the news generated more than a couple arched eyebrows.
Friday afternoon, the brows belonging to Sharks coach Todd McLellan were strictly on the level.
"Patty quite simply had the flu," McLellan said. "Everybody is going to guess and second-guess, and they're going to say it was this and it was that. He had a temperature that wasn't healthy. He was at the rink today. He's looking a lot better. He's got some fluids into him. He's had an IV. We expect him to play on Sunday."
Asked if he knew exactly what Marleau's temperature had been, McLellan chuckled.
"No. Sheesh," he said.
Medicine may not be McLellan's forte, but he was spot on about people speculating as to what's really going on here. It's too tempting, and way too easy.
The Sharks can blame themselves in part for this. Like all NHL teams, they are famously unforthcoming with medical information during the postseason. If Evel Knievel had been a member of the Sharks at the time of his Caesars Palace crash, they would have listed him as day-to-day with a lower body injury.
Beyond that, the flu has long been used to explain the absence of athletes as a means of avoiding potentially nettlesome details. It's code for, "Never you mind."
On top of all that is Marleau's ongoing uneasy relationship with the postseason. It's not just statistical, though the numbers are pretty stark. Between 2002 and the Sharks' first-round series in 2007, Marleau had 43 points in 45 playoff games, and was plus-1 in the plus/minus.
From the second-round series against Detroit in '07 — during which Marleau was famously scapegoated by then-coach Ron Wilson after the ill-fated Game 4 — through this year's Colorado series, he has scored just 14 points in 31 games, and is a minus-9. Moreover, at a time when games get faster and nastier, his overriding objective is seemingly to avoid any and all contact.
What more do you need to engage in rampant and fanciful speculation? Conspiracy theorists, start your engines.
Was Thursday simply an outright scratch? Is it possible Marleau was asked to move down a couple lines and balked? Are the Sharks cutting ties with him now rather than waiting until his contract expires at season's end?
Frankly, all of the above would have trouble passing the smell test. Marleau isn't a troublemaker. To the contrary, he comes across as humble and well-meaning. He's everything you'd want in a hockey player — during the regular season.
So maybe we're back where we started. Maybe Marleau was sick Thursday and will play Sunday. But even that scenario begs speculation.
What do you do with him when he comes back? The Joe Thornton line had its strongest game of the postseason in Game 1. Do you really want to return Marleau there and unseat either Dany Heatley or Torrey Mitchell? You surely don't want to disrupt Joe Pavelski's second line. The third and fourth lines are counted on for energy and checking — two qualities generally lacking in Marleau's recent postseason portfolio.
The San Jose power play was outstanding in Game 1, going 2 for 6. The penalty kill was even better, holding the Red Wings to four shots and no goals on Detroit's five man-advantage situations. Do you risk altering the special-teams chemistry by reassigning Marleau there?
It's weird to be discussing the team's leading scorer in this manner. But the open ice on which Marleau thrives practically disappears in the postseason, and he can't seem to find a way to compensate. The Sharks want to reinvent themselves as a strong-willed playoff stalwart, and he too often operates contrary to that mission.
They have decisions to make if he indeed returns for Game 2. If he doesn't, the sound you hear will be conspiracy theorists dropping their gloves.
Contact Gary Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
San Jose leads series 1-0
GAME 1: Sharks 4-3
SUNDAY: at Sharks, 5 p.m.
tuesday: at Red Wings,
4:30 p.m. TV: CSNCA
Thursday: at Red Wings,
4:30 p.m. TV: CSNCA
x -- MAY 8: at Sharks, 7 p.m.
x -- MAY 10: at Red Wings,
4:30 p.m. TV: CSNCA
x -- MAY 12: at Sharks, TBD.
x -- if necessary