Sharks Fall to Blackhawks 6-2

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE– The San Jose Sharks lost to the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 6-2 on Saturday afternoon. Losing to one of the top teams in the league is not the worst thing a team can do but the Sharks cannot afford to give up any point if they have any hope of making the post season. The game winner was scored by Brandon Saad for Chicago, with Patrick Sharp chipping in with two, Bryan Bickell, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa scoring for the balance. Corey Crawford made 33 saves on 35 Sharks shots. Sharks goals were scored by Melker Karlsson and Joe Thornton, with Antti Niemi making 24 saves on 29 Chicago shots.

The Sharks played well through the first 40 minutes, but could not take the lead over Chicago. After the game, Joe Thornton said:

We played a solid two period game and the third goal is a heartbreaker and you think you can get back into it and the fourth one just puts it out of reach. Yeah, we played good for 40-some odd minutes tonight just not good enough.

Every player and coach the media spoke to after the game was asked whether Thornton Gate had been a distraction leading up to this game. Logan Couture answered it as follows:

No, no, no. Our job is to come here and play hockey, that’s what we did. Guys showed up, played hockey, I thought we played pretty well. Go home, get ready to go to practice on Monday and play again.

No, no, no, is pretty much what everyone said about whether the Wilson-Thornton comments were a distraction. If the team really thinks outside fuss is not a distraction then they are kidding themselves. Even if they do know it is a distraction, they won’t share any more of what goes on behind closed doors than has already been said.

Sometimes a distraction is not a bad thing– see their start to Saturday’s game. Sometimes an irrelevant noise can improve performance. How all of these parts are working together now for the Sharks we are not likely to learn. The truth today is that the Sharks lost when they need to win.

Blackhawks took the first penalty, Bickell for holding the stick. It took the Sharks five seconds to put the puck in the net but since Joe Pavelski had just fallen in the Chicago crease, the goal was called back.

As soon as the penalty had expired, the Blackhawks went the other way. More specifically, Patrick Sharp went the other way. He got one shot off in a near breakaway, and Niemi stopped that one. But the rebound came back to Sharp as he crossed the red line and he put it over the sprawling Sharks goaltender. Assists went to Antoine Vermette and Brent Seabrook.

To that point, the Shark were outshooting the Blackhawks 10-3.

Just past the midway point of the first. Melker Karlsson was called for holding the stick. The Sharks’ penalty kill was quite effective, ejecting the Blackhawks from the zone at a rate of roughly once every 30 seconds without giving up any good chances.

The Sharks continued shooting and outshooting their opponent, but it took almost eleven minutes before a couple of now familiar things occurred: Matt Irwin shot the puck, and a falling Melker Karlsson put the rebound into the net. Joe Pavelski was by the net too, and it hit him before coming to Karlsson. The assists went to Joe Pavelski and Matt Irwin.

End of period, shots were 14-9 Sharks, with the score tied.

An interference call at 1:08 went against Antoine Vermette to give the Sharks an early second period power play. The power play did not start well, including an almost leisurely short-handed breakaway for Jonathan Toews. Niemi stopped that and the Sharks finally reacted to bring the puck back the other way. The Sharks got credit for two shots on the power play but spent most of the two minutes in their own zone.

The Blackhawks looked like a team that knows where their teammates were going to be, what to expect and anticipate from their linemates. This is the sort of familiarity that breeds success. It is a hard formula to compete with when you have a lot of players who are new to the team or even their linemates. For the Sharks to hang with them as well as they did was a good sign for things to come.

The second penalty of the period was called against Dillon, again for interference, at 7:35. It was enough to make a conspiracy theorist think the penalties had been chosen and counted in advance, with the same call going against each team in each period.

With their first shot of the power play the Blackhawks retook the lead. Duncan Keith took a shot from the top of the circle, beating Niemi in the top right corner, as the goaltender was moving left. Time of the goal: 8:45, with assists to Marion Hossa and Brandon Saad.

With 8:33 left in the second, Jonathan Toews was called for tripping. The Sharks were not going to score in the first few seconds, but Brent Seabrook helped them out with a perfect tip of a Joe Thornton shot from the blue line. Assist went to Logan Couture and Brent Burns.

The second period ended with shots at 26-13 Sharks and the score tied again. The shots for the period were 12-4 Sharks.

The tie only lasted the intermission plus 1:21, when Mirco Mueller tripped near his own blue line and let Brendan Saad get by him. Saad took the puck all the way in and shot it by Niemi. Assists went to Teuvo Teravainen and Corey Crawford.

The next Chicago goal came after a prolonged defensive struggle by the Sharks. Several passes and attempts to clear went awry, and when Matt Irwin failed to catch the puck along the boards behind the Sharks net, Marian Hossa Brad Richards took it and had time to pass it to Bryan Bickell right in front of the net. He did not miss. Assists to Richards and Michal Rozsival.

The Sharks barely escaped giving up a fifth goal near the seven minute mark. Niemi came out to meet the shot but wound up down and out of his crease with Joe Pavelski sprawled behind him. The puck ended up under Pavelski until reinforcements could close in.

With 8:35 left in the period, Joe Thornton went to the box for hooking. The Sharks’ penalty kill started well, allowing no shots in the first minute and spending plenty of time in the Chicago end. In all, Chicago only had a couple of good chances, but the Sharks followed up with a second penalty, a tripping call to Barclay Goodrow. The penalty killers made a valiant effort but with just 17 seconds left in the period, Patrick Sharp let one rip from the blue line and it sailed right in to make it 5-2. Assists went to Brent Seabrook and Antoine Vermette.

The empty net goal was scored by Marian Hossa.

Melker Karlsson led the Sharks in shots with six. Tommy Wingels outdid himself with eight hits. John Scott led in blocked shots with three. Brent Burns led the Sharks in ice time with 22:42.

Patrick Sharp led the Blackhawks in shots with six. Andrew Desjardins led the Blackhawks in hits with two. Brent Seabrook led Chicago in blocked shots with four.

The Sharks next play on Tuesday in Winnipeg against the Jets. That game will start at 5:00pm PT.

Sitting Sharks: SJ Losing Streak Stands at Four

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE- The Sharks are not winning anymore. Fans might be having flashbacks to every season past, when even the most magnificent point streak was marred by some inexplicable, nonsensical streak of poor play, bad luck and predictably disappointing results. It would be reasonable to assume that it is time for the Sharks to break pattern, at least in some subtle way.

One could argue that the Sharks’ recent losses were not all due to poor preparation or unsettled play. One could say that the Coyotes had a bone to pick with the Sharks after the insulting 4-1 loss on October 5. One could say that the Canucks had an even bigger grudge to settle, having been defeated by the Sharks nine times in a row, including a playoff sweep. Then one could argue that it is too much to ask of a team to take this season’s Sabres seriously. So that is three of the four losses summarily dismissed, and the fourth was exactly like a game against the Los Angeles Kings: close and exhausting and down to who gets the last change.

Perhaps the Sharks are not in the middle of their seasonal falling sky routine. Maybe the bounces just caught up to them. Nevertheless, they have not responded well. They have not matched their opponents’ intensity. They shifted gears, but not to the right gear. Their passes were rushed and sloppy, their corrections off the mark. With each successive loss, their panic peaked higher and their ability to recover declined.

The most talked-about gaffe of the Vancouver game was Jason Demers’ bad pass followed by his worse decision to hit instead of defend. Not every Sharks player is combining errors so quickly and disastrously, but that sequence revealed the kind of hasty decisions too many Sharks are making. Did it go wrong because Demers was in the process of making the pass while he realized he should not make it? Was it just dumb luck? It doesn’t matter, he lacked poise at that moment. Demers was not the only Shark showing signs of needless panic. Blind passes, a lack of awareness and ill-conceived plays abounded from the blue paint outwards. It took the team two periods to burn off the panic.

Todd McLellan will probably respond with line changes for Sunday’s game in Winnipeg. He may sit Demers, he may shuffle forward combinations. McLellan was clearly disappointed after the Vancouver game, as was every player interviewed. Of course they were. But the team had already made the right correction. In the third period of that game, they were clearly more composed. Passes started to connect, lines were able to move the puck from here to there without giving it away. Even if Vancouver was sitting back, it still allowed the Sharks to compose themselves, go back to basics, settle down. That is exactly what the Sharks needed to do to prepare for the next game. Will they start slow again? It depends how high their pain of loss threshold is.

History suggests that McLellan will pull the lines apart and sit the most conspicuous offenders. The same history reveals a peculiar Sharks habit of allowing veterans to “play through” bad spells, while young skaters sit after  poor performances. It seems counter-intuitive that a veteran should be less able than a younger player to come in and out of the lineup. Demers has played a lot of NHL games for a defenseman of his age, but he hasn’t played more games than a professional player of his age. It is fair to say that he has yet to reach his potential. The same is even more true of Matt Irwin. To sit a game won’t hurt, but Irwin has been out for three now. His absence doesn’t seem to be helping. James Sheppard, though not a prototypical fourth liner, has shown that he can do the job if it is his to do.

Scott Hannan and Mike Brown should be better able to sit until needed. They have both played well, just not well enough to carry the team to wins recently. They shouldn’t have to do that last. Neither player was brought in to be a game changer. They were both brought in to back up a strong team. If the team is struggling with or without them, wouldn’t the ice time be better spent getting the team back on track?

All of this is true of the team’s goaltenders as well. Even if Niemi plays better when he plays more, he should not play as many games as he has in past seasons with the Sharks. If he needs to play a lot, let him do that closer to playoffs. At this time of the season, all he gains is wear and tear. Alex Stalock has shown that he can do the job and maybe he would be even better if he played more too.

If the Sharks want a different result from this season than seasons past, they should probably make some changes to their lineup, just not the ones they usually make.