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.