In the dressing room, after a potentially devastating 4-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings Sunday night here that forced a Game 6 in the Western Conference semi-finals, San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau was being, well, Patrick Marleau.
Quiet and soft-spoken, giving mostly stock answers to standard questions, Marleau was explaining his role as the unwitting victim on Detroit's go-ahead goal, officially scored by Tomas Holmstrom, but made possible by a little bit of Pavel Datsyuk trickery. Datsyuk stripped Marleau of the puck on the boards and then eluded his check as Marleau tried to get it back. Seconds later, the puck was in the net, and moments after that, the game was over. Detroit had completed a stirring three-goal comeback, and the Sharks were left to ponder another missed opportunity to clinch the series and avoid the long trek back to hostile Joe Louis Arena.
Little did Marleau know that on the other coast, outspoken former teammate Jeremy Roenick was ripping his efforts on the goal - and by extension, in the series as well.
On the Versus postgame show, Roenick called Marleau's play "a gutless, gutless performance" - about as strong a statement as any analyst can use to describe the play of a single player in a team game. And this from someone who played alongside Marleau during the final year of his career.
And just in case he wanted to back off from that incendiary comment, Roenick was given a convenient out from fellow analyst Keith Jones - that maybe Marleau was playing injured. Roenick's response cut to the heart: "Yeah, he's hurt - right here," he said, pointing to the middle of his chest.
Well if the Sharks needed any sort of rallying cry, beyond still leading the best-of-seven West semi-final 3-2, that was it. Marleau was San Jose's regular-season leader in goals (37) and points (73), but has been held off the score sheet in the series against Detroit, another in the perplexing line of funks that he can occasionally fall into when his confidence flags. And not scoring goals seems to have affected Marleau's overall play, which Roenick correctly noted has been less than inspired in this series.
Internally, the Sharks understand that this is what you get from the 31-year-old Marleau, who lacks the sort of fire-and-brimstone personality of, say, a Roenick, who was all blood and guts as a player and left it on the ice in a big showy manner. Marleau contributes, but not that way. It's why, two years ago, following Todd McLellan's first season as coach, the Sharks replaced Marleau as captain with Rob Blake.
McLellan and Marleau had a long relationship dating back to their early days in rural Saskatchewan and so they were able to make the change without any hard feelings. And when Marleau had the chance to leave San Jose as an unrestricted free agent, he opted to sign a four-year extension with the team, happy to be a part of the organization, but no longer its front man.
That job is now Joe Thornton's and Thornton is another player whose leadership abilities have come under heavy scrutiny, but even Roenick acknowledged in a postgame Twitter barrage that Thornton is playing the best hockey of his career right now.
Quick aside: Imagine if the Sharks find a way past the Red Wings and then advance to the Stanley Cup final against the Boston Bruins, Thornton's former team. Wouldn't that create a leadership debate to end all leadership debates? Michael Ignatieff, eat your heart out.
But in the meantime, Roenick's comments were the talk of the Twitter world these past 24 hours. To his credit, Roenick tweeted responses to fans well into the wee hours of the morning, some of whom supported his position, some of whom thought he betrayed his former organization.
Roenick got it right on one level, reminding all: "Remember my job is now called Analyst!!! Not player or coach or please everyone with my comments!!"
He also acknowledged that Marleau "has fans and that's great. I am not one of them."
Finally, as a sort of last word, Roenick tweeted: "I love sharks!! Don't take my comments outta context. I want more from a 6 million dollar man."
Well, how you take "gutless, gutless performance" out of context is anybody's guess, but eventually, the controversy will give way to an actual hockey game, Game 6 Tuesday, when the battered and bruised Red Wings will keep pushing to become the fourth team in history to rebound from a 3-0 disadvantage to win a series.
Datsyuk is playing with a bad wrist and Johan Franzen didn't see the ice for the second half of the game Sunday (he's hobbling on a bad ankle), but the Red Wings will cobble a lineup together and work on the Sharks' psyche.
McLellan, meantime, didn't address his team after the game Sunday. "We've got a long day together [Monday] flying for five hours. We'll get an opportunity to meet. But the message I heard from the guys and the leaders was, it's behind us now, and we've got to move on. I thought that was an excellent message - to keep our heads up and get ready to play again."