Sharks Fall 5-2 in Chicago

By Mary Walsh

Three quick first period goals from Blackhawks’ defensemen were too much for the San Jose Sharks to overcome in a 5-2 loss Sunday. Two goals from Joe Pavelski gave the Sharks life in later periods but they could not catch the skilled Chicago team.

After the loss, Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic summarized the Sharks’ performance: “We didn’t play well in the first period, we didn’t do anything right and fell behind three-nothing. It’s tough to come back against a team like that.”

Before Sunday, the Blackhawks had lost three home games in a row. Of that fact, Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said:

I don’t care if they’ve won three in a row or lost three in a row, you’re going to get a team’s good game at home and we didn’t get the start we wanted. We didn’t do hardly anything right in that first.

Despite losing by three goals, the Sharks did make a game of it in the second and third periods. That was little consolation right after the game. Of the Sharks’ strong second and third periods, Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi said: “It’s obviously better than losing it all the way, losing it every period but it doesn’t give much satisfaction in the end because we didn’t get any points.”

The first period started out free-wheeling, with turnovers and takeaways preventing either team from setting up or maintaining pressure. Near the half way mark, the Blackhawks took control. Of the first period as a whole, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan detailed the things that went wrong for his team: “We can’t give the puck away like we did, we gave up three on twos, two on ones, we lost faceoffs. We were unengaged the whole period, everybody.”

Between the 12:00 mark and 14:34 of the first, Chicago defensemen scored three even strength goals. The first was a slapshot from Trevor Van Riemsdyk, his first NHL goal. That came off of a pass from Jonathan Toews. The second came from Brent Seabrook, deflecting off of Andrew Desjardins’ skate. Assists went to Brad Richards and Peter Regin. The third goal was from Niklas Hjalmarsson, with assists to Marian Hossa and Marcus Kruger.

The Sharks managed to stop the bleeding with a goal from Joe Pavelski just under a minute later. A Justin Braun shot from the blue line went off the inside of Pavelski’s stick, then bounced off his hip and into the net. The assists went to Braun and Joe Thornton.

At the end of the period, the Blackhawks led the Sharks in shots 20-9, as well as 3-1 in goals.

For the second game in a row, the Sharks had a four minute power play to work with. 2:57 in to the second period, Joe Thornton took a stick to the face that drew blood. Andrew Shaw went to the box for that and the Sharks went to work against the NHL’s leading penalty killers. It took them almost two minutes but Joe Pavelski scored his second of the game to bring the Sharks within one.

In their shift after the power play expired, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun went on a shooting frenzy, firing as fast as the forwards could get the puck back to them. The sequence did not change the score but it seemed to ramp up the momentum for San Jose.

With eight minutes left in the period, Barclay Goodrow had a clean breakaway but he could not beat Corey Crawford. His linemate, Adam Burish, was right behind him and though they did not convert, it was a very good chance for that line and it kept the Sharks’ momentum going.

Chicago is not a team to wilt easily and they came back with their own series of attacks in the Sharks’ zone. Antti Niemi had to be quick and the Sharks had to work hard to push the Blackhawks back out. The last six minutes of the period were a more refined version of the first period, with play going back and forth fast, but without the sloppiness.

The Sharks led the Blackhawks 13-6 in shots for the period.

Early in the third period, the Sharks had to kill their first penalty of the game. Jason Demers went to the box for a high stick to Bryan Bickell. The Sharks’ penalty kill was very effective, with Patrick Marleau spending a good deal of time in Chicago’s end of the ice interrupting their attempts to get through the neutral zone and set up.

Half way through the third period, the Sharks were rescued from a two on one by a late whistle as David Rundblad was called for holding James Sheppard, as Sheppard and his linemates buzzed the Chicago net.

With under five minutes left, the Bryan Bickell escaped Mirco Mueller behind the net and was able to put a quick shot past Niemi to give the Blackhawks a two goal lead. With just over two minutes left, Joanathan Toews scored into the empty net.

A couple of fights followed, one between Kris Versteeg and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the other between Adam Burish and Jeremy Morin. Of his encounter with Versteeg, Vlasic said after the game: “He was just holding my stick. I didn’t know he was going to drop his gloves, he kind of got the advantage on me. But I know what to expect for next game.”

An extra roughing penalty to Adam Burish put the Sharks on the penalty kill for the final minute and a half. During that penalty kill, Brent Burns was called for tripping, putting the Sharks down by two men and three goals. Seconds later, Scott Hannan was called for boarding.

Out of men to remove from the ice, and out of time to extend the power play, officials could only note the penalty in the record. Andrew Desjardins, Justin Braun and Jason Demers had the honor of finishing that penalty kill. It was not the prettiest way to end the game, but killing the five on three salvaged something of the Sharks’ game.

Antti Niemi made 32 saves on 36 shots. The Sharks’ power play went 1/3, their penalty kill was perfect. Joe Pavelski led the team in shots with five. Brent Burns led the team in hits with five. Marc-Edouard Vlasic led the team in ice time at 22:41.

Corey Crawford made 32 saves on 34 shots for the win. Brandon Saad led the Blackhawks in shots with five. Marion Hossa led his team in hits with three. Niklas Hjalmarsson led his team in ice time at 25:32.

Tye McGinn, Matt Irwin and John Scott were the Sharks’ scratches.

The Sharks next play on Tuesday at 4:40 PT in Sunrise Florida against the Florida Panthers.


Sharks Need to Remember When

By Mary Walsh

Many hockey players say that a short memory is an asset. Let the last game go, win or lose. It is better not to dwell on the past, but sometimes a short memory isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes remembering back before the unpleasant thing that just happened is better than simply forgetting everything as quickly as possible.

Saturday morning, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was asked about teammate Bryan Bickell, who has been in and out of the Chicago lineup lately. Toews said:

It’s not easy for a guy like that. We’re always trying to remind him what he’s capable of doing as a player. I think anyone can forget sometimes, when things aren’t going your way, it just seems to snowball in the wrong direction.

That sounds like something the San Jose Sharks could be saying to themselves and each other after the last few games.

The last time the Sharks played Chicago, Logan Couture was still in the lineup. The Sharks won, in a shootout, with a goal by Couture. Since he left the lineup, the Sharks have won seven of twelve games, including a nice little six game winning streak that recently ended with a three game losing streak. It isn’t a normal three-game losing streak. They went almost three games without a goal, and in the last two losses they lost by three goals. Lady Three is clearly not happy. The Sharks had better find out what she wants and give it to her.

Do the Sharks just miss Couture? They played nine games without him before they completely lost their scoring ability. Why would it take so long for them to notice that they missed him and were incapable of putting the puck in the net without him?

@SharksStats: Sharks with / without Logan Couture: Goals/gm 3.14 / 1.92, Shots/gm 36.1 / 31.8, PP Pct 18.9 / 13.8.

Did someone tell them they should not be capable of scoring, never mind winning, without Logan Couture in the lineup?

Certainly Couture is a very valuable piece of the San Jose scoring machinery, but it is preposterous to think that one guy missing would cause a such a dry spell.

The Sharks are not the only top team that is stumbling right now. Yes, even in the thick of this gaudy losing streak with the double-zeros in the score column, the Sharks are still in the top five or six in the NHL standings. Their neighbors at the top have been having some issues as well.

The Anaheim Ducks have lost two of their last three home games– that home, the one where they were undefeated to the chagrin of stats trackers everywhere– to Winnipeg and Minnesota.

The St. Louis Blues lost to Carolina on Friday, 3-1. Their 7-1 loss to New Jersey still looms large over the subsequent wins. SEVEN to ONE. They will have to win a lot of games to make up for that.

The Pittsburgh Penguins apparently didn’t get the memo that top teams should schedule their most tedious losing streaks for the pre-Olympic time period. Someone should let them know.

Chicago lost four in a row before finally pulling a win out of Vancouver last Wednesday. The four teams they lost to were Detroit, Winnipeg, Minnesota and Calgary.

What is it with Calgary?

In essence, this is a feeding frenzy for teams on the outside of the playoff picture. Dallas, Nashville and even Winnipeg are getting wide-eyed and ambitious.

Is this just a normal let down from the frantic first half of the season? If a team starts well, is it inevitable that they will hit a wall half-way through? Does it have anything to do with the imminent Olympic Games?

Blackhawks veteran and ex-Shark Michal Handzus said:

I thinks it’s coincidence it’s in the same time, … but you cannot go at that ridiculous pace the whole season. Especially Anaheim, St. Louis and us, were playing very well from the beginning pretty much til now. Obviously it happens over the course of the season, … It’s just the schedule is very tough and it’s so many games in a short period of time and it’s going to catch up to you some time.

Two teams in the top six of the NHL standings, as of Saturday, have not snapped out of their funk yet: the Sharks and the Blues. The Sharks have only lost three in a row. Their threshold is higher than that but it would be grand if they could find a way to cut the losing streak short, with or without Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Raffi Torres, or Adam Burish.

Going back to Saturday morning Toews, here is what it sounds like when you get back on track after being embarrassed a few times. Of the team’s recent win in Vancouver, Toews said:

Most of all the guys just really wanted to win that one and we did what we had to do to win. I think going forward we can take a lot of those things that we did and try to implement that on a consistent basis. Kind of remind ourselves of what we were like before this … little skid … try and get back to that same way tonight.