More Trouble for Team Teal- The Chicago Blackhawks who are off to the best start of any team in the NHL so far this season continued their winning ways with their second convincing win of the season over the quickly fading San Jose Sharks 4-1. A sell out crowd at the United Center in Chicago witnessed the Blackhawks get off the best start of a team since the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks as they stretched their record to an amazing 11-0-3 start. Meanwhile, the Sharks who at one time were 7-0-0 have fallen hard since and now sit at 7-4-3 and clearly look like a team whose window for a title may have not only closed but slammed shut. The Sharks scoring ineptitude continued as if not for Tim Kennedy’s goal in the second period, the Sharks would have suffered their third shut out against them in four games. The Sharks power play continued it’s slide into beyond mediocrity as one of the worst units in the NHL with another 0 for 5 game. The Sharks have only scored two goals in their last 42 power play opportunities and are not so much of a feared unit these days. Chicago came away from this game clearly looking as the superior team between the two, and frankly just as this game unfolded, it’s not even close.
Turning Point- The game’s turning point came in the latter half of the first period as the Blackhawks Jonathan Toews crosschecked Joe Thornton, then managed to engage the Sharks Captain into a fight. The Sharks in the exchange would end up with a four minute power play. However the Blackhawks still handicapped the Sharks as Thornton was now off the ice taking a five minute breather for fighting. During the double minor the Sharks only managed one really decent scoring chance in crashing the net during the only time the bothered to crash it with the man advantage. Ray Emery who started in goal for Chicago made the save in covering up the puck in a mass of humanity. In the last minute of the Sharks power play opportunity, Patrick Marleau was called for interference negating what was left of team teal’s chance. While four on four, the Blackhawks clearly took control of the ice and for that matter the game. Only 21 seconds after Marleau was escorted to the penalty box, Dave Bolland would score knocking a puck out of the air over Niemi. Chicago had the lead and one they would never relinquish. Bolland’s initial shot was saved by Niemi, however the Sharks net minder could never recover the puck before Bolland got to it a second time.
Things Would Only Get Worse- Just three minutes into the second period the Sharks would be the victim of another unfortunate bounce. Marcus Kruger launched a shot towards Niemi from just past the blue line that hit the boards behind the Sharks goal. Niemi whiffed on trying to pick up the rebound as he stumbled over out of position, allowing Kruger an easy tip in into an exposed net. Shortly after the Blackhawks second goal, call-up Tim Kennedy gave the Sharks some life in sneaking a puck past Emery to get the Sharks back within a goal at 2-1. As the period wore on both teams had decent scoring chances with both Niemi and Emery being put to the test but making some key saves. Late in the period Jason Demers who appeared to get caught up in the moment drew a roughing penalty when he mixed it up with Patrick Sharp. The Sharks penalty kill, which has been maybe their one saving grace this season could not contain the Blackhawks this time around. Andrew Shaw in a mad scramble around the Sharks goal was able to gather the rebound of his own shot on goal and knock the puck over Niemi’s shoulder to restore Chicago’s two goal lead.
The third period was more of the final act of futility for the Sharks as the Blackhawks would outshoot team teal 17-8. Niklas Hjalmarsson would drill a 55 foot slap shot that Niemi likely never saw as it hit the back of the net before bouncing right back out with 13:32 remaining. The rest of the period was just all about the Blackhawks playing “rope a dope” with a deflated, out-skated, outplayed and outclassed Sharks team in a game that probably could not have ended soon enough. As the final period wore on before it finally wound down, it became clear that the Sharks were looking forward to their flight home out of O’Hare International.
What’s Wrong?- It seemed as if when the Blackhawks scored their first goal after the Sharks failed to covert a double minor power play, all the momentum had swung to Chicago as team teal’s desire quickly wilted. There may very well be a lot of frustration on the Sharks and their certainly should be. However what is not happening is this team being able to handle even the slightest piece of adversity without just falling apart as the game goes on. It may very well be that the holes that this team has tried to mask over the last few season are finally starting to show their ugly side. The Sharks seemingly have few answers to what is going on. A few of the players have been stricken with a flu bug, however that usually will only effect a few players on most teams that go through that. The Sharks problems, whatever they might be seem to be more between the ears than anything else. This, and maybe the reality that as good as they may be they just aren’t good enough anymore.
Shark Bytes- To the surprise of nobody, the three stars of the game were all Blackhawks. 3) Ray Emery; 2) Jonathan Toews, and 1) Marcus Kruger. Chicago outshot the Sharks 37-28 and just were a much better team as far as speed and physicality would go. Logan Couture and Brad Stuart had the assists on Kennedy’s goal. Niemi made 34 saves while the Blackhawks Emery made 26 saves. Corey Crawford did not start for the Blackhawks due to an upper body injury. Eight different Blackhawks’ players had assists.
Next Sharks Game- The Sharks will try to find some answers before meeting the Blues in St. Louis this coming Tuesday. The Blues last season basically destroyed the Sharks winning eight of nine meetings including the post season. St Louis swept the regular season series winning three of the four games (including two in San Jose) rather handily. The Blues look just as strong this year as last season and could give the Sharks all kinds of problems again…that is when the Sharks aren’t creating enough of their own problems.
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