Beating the Blackhawks in Chicago on the second night of a back-to-back was a difficult proposition to begin with but doing so after spotting one of the best teams in hockey a three-goal first period lead made things downright impossible for the Sharks. Tallies by defensemen Trevor van Riemsdyk, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson in a 2:34 span of the opening frame put San Jose on its heels and, while they fought back admirably, it proved to be a deficit they couldn't overcome.
A pair of Joe Pavelski goals, the second set up by Joe Thornton on the power play minutes after Andrew Shaw attempted to gouge his eyes out, drew the Sharks to within a goal and they had several opportunities throughout the second and third periods to stage an improbable multi-goal comeback for the second time in as many nights. Barclay Goodrow was stopped by Corey Crawford on a breakaway, Pavelski barely missed connecting for the hat trick on a give-and-go with Thornton, and Patrick Marleau stripped the puck from van Riemsdyk on the forecheck late in the third before circling the net for a shot from close in. Despite playing their second game in less than 24 hours, the Sharks generated their share of chances to even the score.
But then Todd McLellan inexplicably put Adam Burish on the ice for a defensive-zone faceoff with less than five minutes remaining and the Sharks still trailing by a goal. Burish lost the draw, the puck went back to the point and Johnny Oduya launched a shot on net that Antti Niemi stopped. Burish stayed on the ice, lost another defensive-zone faceoff and seconds later, after Brian Bickell outmuscled Mirco Mueller behind the San Jose net, the Sharks were trailing by two goals. Burish isn't to blame for this loss by any means, or even the Bickell goal directly, but it's baffling that McLellan put him on the ice in that situation. Or, really, any situation.
Despite that sequence, this game was ultimately lost in the first period where the Sharks not only fell behind by three but conceded a shot against per minute; had Niemi not made a series of uncharacteristically acrobatic saves on Brandon Saad, there would have been no mention of a comeback. While the Sharks' control of play following that ugly first can probably be somewhat chalked up to score effects, they did manage to give Chicago a scare despite being the far more fatigued team, a good sign that they're at least capable of hanging with an elite team like the Blackhawks.
- Goodrow showed flashes of speed against Vancouver that nearly led to quality looks so it was nice to see him rewarded with a breakaway tonight. That would have been a surreal way for the kid to get his first NHL goal. Regardless, he certainly seems like a better option on that fourth line than Tye McGinn although there's no reason why both players can't draw in over Burish.
- Good thing the Sharks have top-notch ice-patrollers like Burish and press box patrollers like John Scott to prevent things like one of the Blackhawks' worst players throwing down with the Sharks' most irreplaceable from happening. Seriously, that Vlasic-Versteeg fight was bizarre and unnecessary.
- The Couture line drew Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for most of the night as McLellan was able to manipulate matchups on the road against a notoriously matchup-averse coach in Joel Quenneville. That didn't go particularly well for the Sharks and two of their best offensive players in Couture and Marleau got very little time on the attack as a result. With how effective the Nieto-Thornton-Pavelski line has been at puck possession, I wonder if they might be a better counter to opposing top units.
- Fight aside, Vlasic was tremendous in this game. Logging nearly 23 minutes, almost all of it against the Hawks' top six and while starting twice as many shifts in his defensive zone as the attacking end, he drew even in possession and moved the puck surprisingly well on the power play. He and Justin Braun are the lone positives on the blueline many nights but at least they're big positives.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Joe Pavelski
2nd Star: Niklas Hjalmarsson
3rd Star: Corey Crawford