Sharks edge Blue Jackets; Fall Short in Chicago...

The San Jose Sharks had a very busy weekend having to play two games within 24 hours at Columbus and Chicago. The challenge this weekend was to do battle with the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks, two teams going in different directions. The Sharks in Columbus Saturday night found the Blue Jackets to be a very stingy opponent who again gave the Sharks all they could handle. Patrick Marleau’s goal with 2:57 remaining gave team teal a 2-1 win. However Sunday night was a different story as the Sharks fell behind two goals twice and saw a late rally just short in a 4-3 loss to the Blackhawks.

With the weekend split, the Sharks finish the four game road trip with a 2-1-1 mark and pick up five of a possible eight points in the standings. Overall, the Sharks as of this writing sit at the top of the Pacific Division leading with a 25-12-5 record, 55 total points and 3rd overall in the Western Conference standings. The Sharks lead the L A Kings by two points and now head back to the tank for a two game set starting with Calgary Tuesday night, then Ottawa Thursday evening. The loss to the Blackhawks was the first regulation loss in the 2012 calendar year and just the second over the last 12 games.

Recapping the weekend:

Cannon fodder  - The Sharks game versus the Blue Jackets was probably about as frustrating for team teal to play as it was to watch. Once again, the power play struggled and failed to cash in on a double minor four minute power play when the Jackets’ Rick Nash was called for high sticking. Much of the credit as to go to Columbus goalie Curtis Sanford. Just as he did on January 5th at the Tank, Sanford kept the Blue Jackets in the game with several saves when his team needed them. The Sharks had enough shots on goal but could get absolutely nothing past Sanford. Not to be out done, Thomas Greiss started in goal for the Sharks as Antti Niemi took the evening off, and turned away a Nash attempt to stuff into the net in the game’s first minute and was stalwart throughout. Despite a 16-8 edge in shots on goal, all the Sharks could do is come away empty with a scoreless tie after one period.

The second period seemed to start off slower. Business however picked up quickly about three minutes into the period when the Jackets’ Dane Byers drilled the Sharks’ Andrew Desjardins with an elbow to the head. Desjardins fell to the ice and the Sharks Brad Winchester went to confront Byers, and the two had to be separated by the officials. Byers would get the gate with a game misconduct and an upcoming hearing with NHL player safety. Desjardins would not return to the game. Team teal would carry the pace but still continue to be frustrated by Sanford. Finally, the Sharks got a break on what would be their fifth power play of the evening when Fedor Tyutin was called for delay of game at the 14:13 mark. Shortly thereafter, Brent Burns would drill a slap shot that would hit the right post. The puck seemingly got lost in a scrum of players as both teams were scrambling for it. Joe Pavelski would be able to get his stick on the pick and flip it over toward Ryane Clowe who batted it out of the air and into the net. The goal would count as Clowe was able to keep his stick below the crossbar giving team teal a one goal lead. Greiss meanwhile continued to hold serve in net for the Sharks and made one of his best saves of the game before the period ended, turning away a point blank wrist shot from Tyutin.

The Sharks would carry this lead into the third period, however it would be the Blue Jackets turn to carry the play and give the Sharks all they could handle. The period opened up almost exactly as the second period had ended, with Greiss being called upon to make another phenomenal save. This time it would be the Jackets’ Derek Dorsett who would be turned away as Griess sprawled across the goal crease to stop Dorsett’s point blank wrister. Moments later the Blue Jackets’ Sanford would turn away a point blank shot from Joe Thornton to keep it a one goal game. This would prove to be key as just seconds afterward the Jackets’ Nash would get ahold of the puck and carry it down ice. With Marc-Edouard Vlasic covering him, Nash was able to still get a good shot that had lift and beat Greiss top shelf to tie the game. Honestly, there was not a whole lot Greiss could do as Nash’s shot was put just in the right spot. It was a “goal scores goal.” With the game tied, the momentum had swung over to Columbus who continued to pressure the Sharks in their zone. However, Greiss would prove to be strong in net and did not let Nash’s goal phase him.

The game would come down to who would get the last best look on net. With three minutes to go Pavelski lead a rush into the Blue Jackets defensive zone. Despite being well covered himself, he still got off a pretty good wrist shot that Sanford saved, but failed to collect the rebound. Shadowing Pavelski on the rush was Marleau, who was the beneficiary of the rebound and an open left side of the net. Marleau drilled the puck into the open area before Sanford could come back across the goal crease and the Sharks had a 2-1 lead. The Sharks in the final moments would turn away Columbus as the defense tightened up and did not allow the Blue Jackets a shot in the final two minutes.

The Chicago Way – After a tough albiet successful night in Columbus, the Sharks then had the task of a quick turn around having to play the Blackhawks at the United Center. Antti Niemi would return to net to face his former team after a good two days off. Niemi looked fresh early, and as it would turn out he had to be. The Blackhawks from the opening puck drop would carry much the play throughout the evening. The Sharks, obviously looking a little road weary did their best to hold the ‘Hawks attack at bay, though it seemed it was Chicago who had the larger chip on their shoulders having lost to Detroit just 30 hours earlier.

The Sharks did have some early chances on Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, however the problem team teal would have would be their ability to sustain any prolonged pressure in the ‘Hawks defensive zone. Meanwhile, Niemi was seeing a number of pucks flying around him and would be tested severely. Niemi’s best save of the night happened early when the always dangerous combination of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane led a ‘Hawks charge up the ice, with the Sharks actually having more men shadowing the play. In spite of that, Toews was able to get the perfect feed pass to Kane who drilled a slap shot that Niemi snagged out of the air just before it could to into the back of the net. However, the Sharks luck would not hold up as just before the end of the period the Hawks’ Dave Bolland took a feed pass from Jimmy Hayes who was behind the Sharks goal. Bolland drilled a sharp angle wrister that beat Niemi top shelf giving Chicago the lead. Things then quickly got worse for team teal. Just as the period was about to run out, the ‘Hawks continued to pressure the Sharks zone. Towes would find Victor Stalberg and hit him with a perfect corner pass, hitting Stalberg right on the stick. Stalberg would tip the puck into the net as Niemi simply could not extend the leg pad far enough. The Blackhawks were in control and lead 2-0 after one period.

Sharks Strike Back - The Sharks would find away to get back into the game rather quickly in the second period. Team teal would have to endure an early push by the Blackhawks where Niemi would be challenged yet again. Once the Sharks finally were able to get control of the puck good things started to happen for team teal and in a hurry. Marc-Edouard Vlasic got the Sharks on the board, drilling a slap shot from the point that beat Crawford through traffic in front of the net. Just 26 seconds later, team teal would pull even when the ‘Hawks uncharacteristically got a little careless with the puck in their own zone. Torrey Mitchell would seize the puck in the corner, then pass it over to Jamie McGinn who in turn did hockey’s version of a “slam dunk”. McGinn stuffed the rubber biscuit past Crawford who did not have the far angle covered. With the game tied at 2-2, the Sharks would ride some more momentum but missed on a couple good scoring chances afterward.

Toews & Kane Again - As the second period moved along, things seemed fairly even until the ‘Hawks would get the break of the game about seven minutes in. Behind the Sharks goal, Stalberg would get a pass over to Kane who was in the right corner. From there, Kane would put the puck towards the net. As Niemi came out to play the puck, Toews would sneak in behind him. Despite Joe Pavelski getting over to shadow Kane, it would prove to be too late as Kane would knock the rubber biscuit into the net and gave the ‘Hawks the lead again. Chicago would carry this lead into the third period as the Sharks would have limited opportunities. Their best chance seemed to come with about four minutes left in the period when Joe Thornton was stoned twice by Crawford in the same sequence of shots. Neither Jason Demers or Ben Ferriero would fair better with two shots on Crawford just seconds later.

Teal Hopes Dashed - The Sharks started the final period on a continuation of a power play thanks to a Toews hooking penalty. However in the limited time they had team teal really could not muster much of anything. Moments later, the ‘Hawks Andrew Shaw would follow up a wrist shot from Marcus Kruger. Shaw caught Niemi just enough out of position to put the puck into the net and give Chicago another two goal lead. From there, Niemi could only do his best from that point to try to keep the Sharks in the game. With five minutes left, Dan Boyle in the ‘Hawks zone got ahold of a loose puck and shot it towards the net. The shot hit the post and bounced right to Tommy Wingles, who was behind Crawford and able put the puck into the net for his first NHL goal. The Sharks would now have hope back to within 4-3.

It looked for a monent that teal hopes would be quickly dashed as it appeared the ‘Hawks Stalberg had scored his second goal of the game just seconds after Wingles’ goal. The official on the ice waved off the goal ruling that Stalberg had kicked the puck in with his skate. This would still go to review at the war room in Toronto. Upon further review, the Sharks got the govenor’s reprieve and still trailed by a goal, still having a chance. The Sharks got their big chance late when Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson took an ill advised hooking penalty. The Sharks pulled Niemi and after a time out went for broke, going six on five (counting Crawford). The Sharks did their best in that final 1:07 to get the tying goal and held their zone for the longest stretch of the game. Despite this, Crawford made the key saves and the Sharks just ran out of time.

Assessment of the Weekend – I am one who will never make excuses for the Sharks. All in all, a back to back on the road for any team is tough no matter who they are. The Sharks did well to get the split. Getting Chicago on the back end of a “back to back” is a tall order for anyone considering their firepower and all star line up. If the Sharks had a days rest and then played Chicago, I cannot say they would have won. However, I can say they would have been better rested and had better legs for the game. Of course, that’s not how the NHL works. I would not be too concerned about the loss in Chicago, it simply was a tall order given the schedule. As for the road trip, five points in the standings out of a possible eight in four games is not bad.

An Old Flame – The Sharks will now come home to take on the Calgary Flames Tuesday night at the Tank. The Flames are a team in transition, just having made a major trade with the Montreal Canadiens re-acquiring Mike Cammalleri for Rene Bourque. Cammalleri should add some much needed scoring to the Flames line up which already features Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, Curtis Glencross, Alex Tanguay and more. In net for Calgary, none other than one-time Shark Miikka Kiprusoff who this season is sporting a .916 save percentage. This should be an interesting match as the Flames are trying to get themselves into the playoff hunt.

Off Topic: Congrats to the 49ers!!! – Congrats to the San Francisco 49ers with their tremendous win over the New Orleans Saints this weekend. Good luck against the New York Giants in the NFC Championship this coming Sunday (1/21). 49ers, you’ve rocked it this season!!! Jim Harbaugh, you ROCK!!!



The King Shark

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