The San Jose Sharks cannot lay claim to being the best team in the NHL anymore. That designation goes to the Chicago Blackhawks after they won Tuesday, February 5 at HP Pavilion.
The San Jose Sharks (7-2-1) continue to struggle with health issues on the blue line: Dan Boyle is still battling the flu and Brent Burns is not yet a full participant in practice.
Yet they felt healthy enough to option Nick Petrecki to the minors Sunday ahead of their back-to-back tilts to start the week. Boyle played and Jason Demers played well in his two games back was not dressed. The blue line they did field was healthy and failed anyway.
The Sharks are trending down fast.
After dominant wins in Alberta, Canada, they had three late scores plus an empty net goal in their home opener to win again. Then they destroyed the top two teams in the Northwest Division in 2011-12 the first time they faced games on back-to-back days to run their record to 5-0-0.
Since then, they were out-played in a shootout win over the Anaheim Ducks and needed another shootout to finish off the upstart Edmonton Oilers to maintain a perfect point percentage. That ended the next game when Martin Havlat blew a chance at a goal celebrating and a potential win became a shootout loss against Nashville.
They got their first regulation loss Monday at Anaheim, but they gave up just two goals. The sky was hardly falling on a team that yielded just nine scores in seven games. They just had to score more.
The top line that was involved in 20 goals scored in six games had none in three. The checking lines had yet to score a goal and the power play was one for its last 18 chances (5.5 percent). On the blue line, only four have points and only two have more than two.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan shook up the lines, even breaking the first line up outside of the power play. It seemed to have tremendous impact in the first 11 minutes of the game, during which the blue line, first line and checking lines all answered the bell for scoring.
After Chicago pressure on the first two shifts, Douglas Murray absolutely clobbered Andrew Shaw twice, sandwiched around a Tommy Wingels shot. The momentum quickly changed.
Within a minute of the second hit, Ryane Clowe sent the puck to the point, where Marc-Edouard Vlasic got a shot through that Joe Pavelski was able to bat out of the air for a goal. In one play, the blue line and first line converted.
For over two minutes, play went back and forth with only a single block and shot (both by San Jose) recorded. But Wingels hit Sheldon Brookbank and the Sharks got to the loose puck. James Sheppard got the puck to Michal Handzus, who found Wingels heading into the offensive zone on the left wing. He rocketed a wrist shot over Chicago goalie Corey Crawford’s glove, off the crossbar near the far post and in to give the checking line their first score of the year.
Problems solved, right? The Hawks called timeout and certainly responded better, drawing a penalty and registering all seven shots on goal. The last turned out to the first goal of Brandon Saad’s career.
The third line for the Sharks again answered the call at the end of the next shift (Handzus from Wingels and Boyle) to give them the 3-1 lead. However, a mere eight seconds later, Shaw caught them napping, scoring his second goal of the year.
And Chicago was not done. Marcus Kruger became the 80th player in NHL history to get his first NHL goal against San Jose 42 seconds later. It was the second time in this young season that two players achieved that distinction (though one of 80 is hardly distinct) in the same game.
Their game winner came on a call that the NHL has already rescinded. Andrew Desjardins laid a clean but devastating hit that drew an instigator penalty—plus another for doing so with a visor—on Duncan Keith, who also lost the fight. The Sharks were expecting a double minor power play and ended up having Desjardins hit with a major and ejected for targeting the head when his point of contact was behind the back shoulder.
Then again, it is likely they call him for roughing or charging if there was no major called. The game winner came more than two minutes later—when San Jose would be on the power play either way—but they had a chance to take advantage of Keith when they might not have without the ill-conceived instigator rule.
Sharks announcer Randy Hahn pointed out the inaction of officials might indicate they knew it was not a head shot right away because procedure for them was not followed. That offered another roster advantage for Chicago. But the loss of Andrew Desjardins for the game was not as significant as Keith going off the ice for 19 minutes.
Coach Todd McLellan called it a turning point, but turning points are less about the events than the responses. San Jose did not respond to on-ice events as well as Chicago after their last goal 9:13 into the first period. It showed especially on the back end.
Antti Niemi was solid—not one of the goals can be put on him because the blue line was terrible. On top of giving up prime scoring opportunities, they took four minor penalties.
Justin Braun misplayed two situations leading directly to goals and Brad Stuart had four giveaways. Dan Boyle misplayed a puck and then was out-skated (perhaps a sign he is not at full health yet) for it, forcing Niemi to make his best save despite a hold that ended the power play.
After a strong game that even included offensive chances, Murray had his pocket picked by Jonathan Toews to set up Patrick Kane for the winning goal. Complaints were also made that Braun was knocked down on the play, but Chicago’s first two penalties were bad calls.
This team has to respond better on Saturday, or they will have a fourth consecutive loss on their hands from the Phoenix Coyotes.
snaptwig.com’s three stars of the game:
- Toews had four takeaways, including the one that he turned into the game-winning assist. He also had another assist and won 17 of 26 draws.
- Kane had two goals, including the winner.
- Wingels had a goal, an assist and five hits.