Marleau's hot touch is shutting up critics

Patrick Marleau's earth-on-fire start to the NHL season has provided many over the past few days the chance to reconsider the forward’s place in this league.

For a player who has done as much as he has in this sport, he certainly over the years has generated conflicting reviews in media circles and among fans.

Some believe he hasn’t shown it when it matters most. Some believe he could have done more with his talent.

Well, it sure was interesting Monday to hear how an opposing NHL head coach honestly views Patrick Marleau.

And we say "honestly" because the coach asked and was afforded anonymity in order to give his full view of the 33-year-old San Jose Sharks forward who has been maligned like few other NHL stars in this league over the past decade.

"To me, Patrick Marleau is a player that’s misunderstood and misrepresented," said the Western Conference coach. "He’s a very, very good 200-foot player. Even when he’s not scoring, he’s one of the best penalty killers in the league. He was a great player in the Olympics. He’s just a quiet guy. Even when he’s not scoring, he still contributes in other areas that he never gets any credit for. He does a lot of other things well that as a coach, you really appreciate."

So when this coach hears all the critics hammer Marleau, especially at playoff time, he doesn’t get it.

"It’s really, really unfair the criticism that he’s taken," said the coach. "If you really watch him carefully as an opposition coach, you appreciate all the little things that he does that gets you out of the ditch all the time. Honestly, he’s a much better player than he’s ever been given credit for."

With nine goals in his opening five games, while playing on a line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, Marleau has been unreal in the opening days of the NHL season.

But regardless of where you sit on the Marleau fence, his ultimate judgment this season will once again come at playoff time. When he put up zero goals and zero assists in five games last spring during San Jose’s meek opening-round exit to St. Louis, the carving of Marleau was in full force.

And the truth is, he wasn’t very good in that series. But neither were most of his teammates, who didn’t get nearly as much of a work-over.

This is the player people target when they want to explain why San Jose -- despite all of its talented squads -- hasn’t won a Cup yet over the past decade.

Cue the Jeremy Roenick rant on Marleau from the spring of 2011, not JR’s finest moment. Or perhaps some of this is rooted in the not-so-secret, acrimonious relationship that former Sharks coach Ron Wilson had with Marleau.

Whatever the reasons, the playoff numbers tell a different tale than his detractors would have you believe.

Marleau is second only to Jaromir Jagr in playoff goals among active NHL players. Marleau also is tied for 15th in NHL history in game-winning goals in the playoffs.

Again, nobody is saying he has been great every playoff year. But those numbers suggest the type of criticism he has taken doesn’t fit the crime.

The only thing nobody can debate is that Marleau is the most polarizing figure on the Sharks when it comes to people’s perception of him from the outside world.

"I think you’re very accurate with that," Sharks coach Todd McLellan told ESPN.com Monday. "He’s often the guy that people try to poke holes into. Sometimes maybe he deserves it because he has been a little inconsistent at some points. But if people really dug and did enough homework on his stats and the type of goals that he scores and the amount of them, including playoff goals -- they’d realize he does produce.

"He’s come in and he’s prepared himself during the lockout," added McLellan. "He’s always in exceptional condition, which I think gives him a head start on a lot of players this year. But he’s been able to be focused and play with his two linemates that he has some familiarity and continuity with and they’ve been able to click early. So I’m happy for him."

Just don’t ask Marleau to talk about himself. Good times or bad, the soft-spoken Marleau hates bringing the spotlight on himself. So Monday, in a media conference call with Joe Thornton organized by Sharks PR staff, Marleau was his low-key self.

Asked to describe what it’s like to be this hot with nine goals in five games, he was quick to redirect the credit.

"You try not to dissect it too much," Marleau told reporters on the call. "But to get off to a start like this at the start of the season is something special. Obviously, I’m not doing it alone, I’m playing with the two Joes. And our D has been playing well, too. But obviously Jumbo has been setting me up and I’ve had a lot of empty nets. So that’s a big key for myself."

Right now, Marleau is letting his play do the real talking.