USA TODAY Sports
With yet another chance to hand the Blackhawks their first regulation loss of the season, the Sharks came up short as Chicago secured its place in the record books with the best start in NHL history.
At this point in the Sharks' 2013 odyssey, the script has become painfully familiar. A lifeless power play, a lack of contributing depth forwards and a failure to challenge opposing skaters at the defensive blueline once again conspired to result in a San Jose loss, the team's eighth in nine games. Sure, the Sharks were somewhat more competitive in this game than they were last Friday in Chicago, in the sense that one could contend they belonged on the same ice surface as the Blackhawks for stretches tonight. But at the end of the day, moral victories become less appeasing with each passing Sharks loss. And although the score was closer this time around, the Sharks were still outshot 28-17 and outchanced 10-8 at even strength despite trailing for nearly the entire third period.
Let's talk about that third period, because it was easily the Sharks' worst. They entered it on a power play which promptly expired but after Brent Seabrook tripped Logan Couture, San Jose was right back on the man advantage. Following a series of aborted zone entries that morphed into dump-ins, the Sharks allowed the Hawks' penalty killers to back them off coming through the neutral zone. Brent Burns didn't even attempt to challenge the puck-carrier Brandon Saad who caught Antti Niemi off his angle, firing the eventual game-winner past the San Jose goaltender shorthanded.
That wasn't even the issue with the third period, though. There were still over 17 minutes at that point for the Sharks to mount something of a comeback effort but their response to the Saad goal was insipid. They allowed Chicago to walk all over them even while protecting a one-goal lead, yielding 11 shots and 7 scoring chances at even-strength. San Jose's only 5v5 chance of the period was thwarted by faulty fiberglass as Tommy Wingels' stick snapped just as he was one-on-one with Ray Emery. To refer to that wet fart of an opportunity as emblematic of the Sharks' season would belabor the point.
While it still isn't time to panic and the Sharks are a better team than their latest ten-game stretch indicates, one thing is clear: this team can't hang with the conference's elite. It was the case all last season and, so far in 2013, nothing has changed.
- I've never been one to advocate for redemptive violence, and trading cheap shots is childish, but nobodies like Andrew Shaw shouldn't be allowed to board Captain America and just get away with it. There were eight seconds left in the game at the time of that play and the Sharks had no chance of winning. I have no idea why there wasn't a more substantial response than Ryane Clowe's. Hopefully Pavelski is okay.
- When the Sharks were dominant on the power play, it was by employing some of the most creative and consistently effective zone entries in the league. That hasn't happened lately and much of the power play's struggles can probably be traced to it. Sure, the Sharks' utter lack of player movement on the rare occasion they do cleanly gain the blue line isn't helping but they're wasting large swaths of their power play time on failed or inefficient entries.
- The Logan Couture line pretty decisively lost their matchup against Jonathan Toews when these teams met a week ago, so kudos to Todd McLellan for sneaking them on the ice against the Hawks' third and fourth lines in the first period despite not having the luxury of last change. That group was dominant in the first twenty minutes and could have easily generated a couple of goals between them.
- It seemed like Burns had turned a corner in the St. Louis game but there's obviously no excuse for his defense against the rush tonight. Far too tentative on both Blackhawks goals although, at the same time, if Niemi saves two very stoppable pucks we're probably not even discussing those plays.
- Can't we just all agree that the Blackhawks are one hell of a hockey team instead of showering them with overblown fanfare for breaking an obscure and meaningless record?
- It's hard not to marvel at how well the Hawks bottle up the neutral zone. They just would not let the Sharks generate any sort of entry in the third period. One does not simply walk into the Chicago zone. It's the Mordor of the NHL.
- This is a bullet point in seemingly every recap and I'm getting tired of harping on it myself but it remains an enormous problem: the bottom six is awful. The Sharks' top two lines were both terrific tonight but the Handzus and Desjardins lines got smoked, never able to sustain anything even resembling offensive pressure. Combined, those two lines are soaking up 20 even-strength minutes a night out of about 45. That's a substantial chunk of each game to completely write off as a result of icing two predictably terrible units. What makes this so frustrating is that the Sharks do have the personnel to at least trot out a competent third line for twelve minutes a game. Outside of about a half-week stretch with James Sheppard on his wing, Handzus has been, well, Handzus once again this year. It isn't his fault or Burish's fault that they aren't good players. Neither of them is going to magically improve and this issue comes down to the coaching staff doling out ice time and configuring their lineup illogically.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Brandon Saad
2nd Star: Ray Emery
3rd Star: Jonathan Toews
Despite the truncated season, there's still time for the Sharks to re-establish themselves here. They remain 6th in the conference and the division-leading Ducks are largely a house of cards. The Sharks can still make the playoffs but nights like this one are reminders that they'll be in tough to match up against top teams if they get there. Still, go Sharks.