*This was originally published in April 2021
When it comes to all-time NHL records, discussions are always had that some may never be broken, like Wayne Gretzky’s 2,857 points, his 894 goals (which could be falling in the near future), or Gordie Howe’s 1,767 games played. Sometimes, however, a special player comes along and challenges those “untouchable” numbers.
April 19, 2021, in Las Vegas, Nevada, 23-year NHL veteran Patrick Marleau played in his 1,768th game, breaking Howe’s record that stood for 41 years. When Howe played his last NHL game, Marleau was seven months old.
Over his career, Marleau has played with three teams, most notably the San Jose Sharks, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and for a whole eight games, the Pittsburgh Penguins. While eight games don’t hold a candle to the 1,596 played in San Jose, or even the 164 with the Leafs, we are going to take a look back at the strange tenure that was Marleau in the black and gold.
The Trade to Pittsburgh
Heading down the stretch of the 2019-20 NHL season, the Penguins took a unique approach to the trade deadline. General manager Jim Rutherford parted with a third-round pick to acquire the 40-year-old Marleau. Looking to add a veteran presence in the lineup, Rutherford saw a player that could play anywhere in the lineup.
According to Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, Marleau wanted to explore his options at the trade deadline for a chance to win a Stanley Cup. The Penguins had a good opportunity to do just that with a record of 37-18-6 on deadline day. The results that came after the trade, however, didn’t satisfy any of the parties involved.
When Marleau arrived, the Penguins has already lost three straight games and were about to begin a trio of games in California. The Penguins, along with their newly acquired forward, lost those three games and extended their losing streak to six games.
The Penguins Tenure
In his eight games with the Penguins, Marleau scored a goal and an assist for two points and averaged 15:25 of ice-time per game. Those numbers aren’t ideal for a deadline acquisition for any team, but who knows what could have happened down the stretch as the 2019-20 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, a team Marleau had seen plenty of times in his career up to that point. He didn’t do much, however, only putting up a single shot in 14:29 of ice time. The Penguins’ losing streak reached four games, the longest of the season.
A 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, again a former rival of Marleau’s. The game extended the Penguins’ losing streak to five games.
A 5-0 shutout loss to Marleau’s former team, the Sharks. Nothing much to speak of other than this game saw the only time he took a penalty in a Penguins’ uniform.
Finally, a win with Marleau on the Pens’ roster – a big 7-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. Bryan Rust had a hat trick and Marleau picked up his first point as a Penguins with an assist on Rust’s second goal.
A 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. Not much to speak of here other than the Penguins were still fighting to find consistency in the win column.
A 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals. Welcome to the rivalry, Patty. Not a fun game from the Pittsburgh side as they went down 4-0 early in the third.
Another brutal loss the very next day, 6-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes. Marleau did, however, score his first and only goal with the Penguins in this game.
The final game before the shutdown, the Penguins took a 5-2 victory over the Devils, in New Jersey, something the Penguins don’t do often.
Thanks to the shutdown, Marleau and the Penguins missed out on the last 13 games of the season. The postseason was just as unpleasant as the losing streak for the Penguins as they lost to the 12th–seeded Montreal Canadiens in four games. Marleau had no points in those games but did push his career postseason games played number to 195, good for 24th all time.
Playing for a Childhood Favorite
One of the biggest subplots to the future Hall of Famer’s move to Pittsburgh was how Marleau grew up rooting for the Penguins and their current owner Mario Lemieux. Marleau was 11 and 12 years old when the Penguins won their first two Cups in 1991 and 1992.
Marleau said after being traded to Pittsburgh, “I’m just a big Mario fan and big Penguins fan. They were winning Cups back then and hopefully can win one this year.” Getting the long time Shark a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh could have been a storybook ending for his career.
Ironically, the closest Marleau got to winning it all was a Cup Final loss to the Penguins in 2016.
The Iron Man Streak
1,768 games played is an impressive number, but it gets even more staggering when you realize Marleau hasn’t missed a game since April 7, 2009. For some perspective of how long ago that was, Sidney Crosby had not yet won a Stanley Cup, “Gives You Hell” by the All-American Rejects was atop the Billboard Top-40 list, and Tom Brady only had three Super Bowl victories. Without missing a game, he holds the fourth-longest ironman streak in NHL history at 899 games and counting.
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It would have been fitting for Marleau to win a Cup in Pittsburgh, the same city he was drafted in in 1997. Maybe if the Penguins win the Cup in 2020, Marleau decides to hang up the skates and call it a career. While his time in Pittsburgh may often be forgotten, it was a small but important part in reaching 1,768 games.
Nick Horwat is a graduate of Point Park University and was born and raised in Pittsburgh. A lifelong Penguins fan that has been watching and going to games for as long as he can remember.