The San Jose Sharks made the decision to break up their two-week road trip following their visit with the NHL Western Conference rival Chicago Blackhawks Friday, February 15. They headed home after the game reeling from their seventh straight loss (0-4-3) since starting the season 7-0.
The hosts were not very hospitable right from the start. In the final five minutes of the first period, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews picked a fight with San Jose captain Joe Thornton. While he served four extra minutes and lost the fight, he turned the tide—aided by the benefit of two questionable calls.
Sharks color commentator Drew Remenda pointed out that Toews instigated the fight and deserved 21 minutes—five for the fight, 10 for a game misconduct, and minors for boarding, instigating and an additional two for doing so while wearing a face shield. But the instigator rule is misapplied if a smaller elite player cannot challenge someone without missing a third of the game.
San Jose still had Chicago's best player off the ice for nine minutes (he was given an unsportsmanlike conduct rather than the instigating double-minor) and had a man-advantage—albeit without Thornton—for four minutes and could not capitalize. They also got an unfortunate but understandable bad call when Patrick Marleau legitimately out-muscled Dave Bolland but was called for a penalty that resulted in a Bolland score in the final minute of the first period.
A bounce Antti Niemi could not read led to that goal. An even weirder bounce led to Chicago's second score. Marcus Kruger dumped a puck in on Niemi that short-hopped past him and off the post. The rebound again caromed a way he did not expect, and Kruger cleaned up his own shot for an early second-period, two-goal lead.
Bounces do not go the way of teams that are not playing well. The same goes with penalty calls.
The Sharks did answer back, as Brad Stuart advanced the puck within the attacking zone to Logan Couture. He slid the puck past his defender's stick to Tim Kennedy, who had gotten deeper than his man. Ray Emery slid across to stop the wide shot, so Kennedy went to the backhand inside the post the goalie left behind.
It would once again be the only goal the Sharks could muster. That marked the fifth time in the seven games they have lost in February that they failed to score more than one goal.
For the third time in five games, they gave up at least four goals. Chicago's Andrew Shaw batted a puck past Niemi out of mid-air on a second-period power play and Niklas Hjalmarsson rocketed an even-strength point blast over Niemi's right shoulder about six minutes into the third period.
The Sharks did have six more hits, but that hardly qualifies as taking it to an opponent that hits less than any other team. They also had six fewer blocks despite having more opportunities for them.
The problem remains on offense. They gather the puck for better position, pass it or take it to the perimeter to set up the offense rather than create and exploit openings through attacking the middle and with quick shots.
Thus, San Jose is less efficient and squanders opportunities struggling offenses cannot. Chicago actually was one possession short of their guests (even in the circle, five more takeaways but six more giveaways) but attempted one more shot, got nine more on goal and three more to go in.
The frustration of analyst Bret Hedican in the post-game show was evident, as it was in an interview with coach Todd McLellan:
Let's face it, tonight one team was fast, moved pucks, attacked. Another team bobbled pucks, misplayed them and was slow. Simple as that.
The best players in this game bore a team name and emblem that only lacks cultural insensitivity when compared to the slur of a Washington NFL team name or the caricature emblem of a Cleveland MLB team.
Jamal Mayers had two assists without even seven minutes on the ice, arguably out-performing San Jose's best player, Kennedy (four shots and three hits to go with his goal). An assist, two hits and four blocks with five shots in seven attempts was not even enough to put Chicago's Brent Seabrook among the three stars of the game:
- Emery confounded San Jose, saving 27 of 28 shots (.964 save percentage) to all but ensure a win.
- Hjalmarsson had a goal, assist, takeaway and blocked shot to go with his three shots on four attempts.
- Kruger had the game-winning goal, an assist, two hits and three shots.
Monday morning, the Sharks head back on the road to face a defense they have found hard to solve when they were playing much better than they have on this road trip. The St. Louis Blues have eight wins in their last nine meetings because they have given up just 11 goals in those games.