Hockey moments have been aplenty the past four years at T-Mobile Arena. Few of them, if any at all, carry the weight of NHL history.
Patrick Marleau will hold that distinction Monday.
Marleau will skate in his 1,768th game when the San Jose Sharks visit the Vegas Golden Knights, surpassing Gordie Howe for the most games played in NHL history.
“They’re kind of all over the place,” Marleau said about his emotions. “You don’t know how you’re supposed to feel. There’s a game to be played tonight, for sure, and there’s a lot of other things going on at the same time.”
There’s no doubt the 41-year-old forward would like to spend his final years trying to win a Stanley Cup. The Sharks are five points out of a playoff spot with 13 games remaining, and even if a late push got them in the field of 16, the odds of San Jose making waves this postseason are unlikely.
But that hasn’t stopped Marleau from being Mr. Hockey in San Jose. The No. 2 overall pick in the 1997 NHL Draft, Marleau has played 21 of his 23 seasons with the Sharks. Minus a two-year run in Toronto and a very brief stint in Pittsburgh last season, Marleau has been a part of nearly every inch of Sharks history.
Marleau was open to a move to a contender at last week’s trade deadline, but nothing materialized. There were rumblings the Golden Knights might make a move on Marleau and reunite him with Pete DeBoer, but those talks hardly gained traction.
To see Marleau break the record, not in a Sharks sweater, would’ve been odd.
Make no mistake: on a historic night like this, the Golden Knights-Sharks rivalry will take its place center stage. Vegas, on a six-game winning streak, is playing the SEGABABA after winning 5-2 at Anaheim on Sunday. The Golden Knights are trying to keep pace with the Colorado Avalanche, on pause due to COVID, for first place in the West Division.
“As much as you hate your opponent and want to beat your opponent, you still respect your opponent,” said Golden Knights captain Mark Stone. “I think everybody in our locker room respects the hell out of what he’s doing.”
Marc-Andre Fleury, no stranger to milestone accomplishments this season, was also gracious.
“To hang in there that long and play every game is amazing,” Fleury said. “He’s very respected around the league. I don’t know him much, but he was always respectful and very nice. I think it’s very deserving to get the praise he’s getting to beat that milestone.”
Marleau, holding back tears, seemed taken aback by the praise he was given from his opponents.
“You go battle with these guys day in and day out. You play against them, and they know the grind and know what it takes to play in this league,” he said. “For them to show their respects and have all these kind words, it’s very humbling.”
A big week lies ahead for Marleau in Las Vegas. Not only does he pass Howe tonight, but Wednesday will be his 900th consecutive game, becoming the fourth player ever to reach that mark.
When Pete DeBoer was hired by San Jose in 2015, he was in the midst of Marleau’s consecutive games run. Marleau had a run of eight straight full seasons played before signing with the Maple Leafs in the summer of 2017.
“He’s Mr. Consistency,” DeBoer said. “People have asked me to put the record in perspective, or compare it to somebody else in another sport. When I think of Patty Marleau, I think of Cal Ripken, Jr. You knew what you were getting every night. He was a gentleman, he was a great teammate.
“In a league where we honor and award a gold stick for 1,000 games, the fact this guy has got 1,700 plus if you throw playoff games in, it’s an amazing accomplishment.”
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joe Thornton, former teammate of Marleau in San Jose, is the next active member on the games played list at 1,669. Very much in reach, but a record Thornton does not plan to match.
Could this record ever be broken again?
“If you ask me,” said Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson, “no.”