CHICAGO – The 4-1 Blackhawks victory over the Sharks on Friday in Chicago was not unexpected, considering the direction both teams are going.
Chicago (11-0-3) has gained points in its first 14 games, just two shy of the NHL record. The Sharks (7-4-3) have lost seven in a row after starting the season on a seven-game winning streak. They can’t score goals, failing to record more than two in regulation for the eighth time in the last nine games, and haven’t won in regulation since Jan. 27.
Do the freefalling Sharks even have the right personnel on their roster to compete with a top team like Chicago?
“It’s amazing what’s happened in 15 days,” said Todd McLellan, referring to the Sharks’ last victory on Jan. 31. “It doesn’t even look like the same team. Not even remotely close. Are we going to rely on what we saw early in the year and the performances that we were receiving, or are we going to take the [last] seven games and evaluate on that? I guess we have to make those decisions.”
The last time the Sharks lost this many games in a row was before they acquired Joe Thornton. From Nov. 5 – 30, 2005, San Jose endured a 10-game losing streak (0-7-3), and shocked the hockey world by acquiring its future captain on Dec. 1 in a trade with Boston.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Blackhawks 4, Sharks 1]
With just one game in the next six days, now could be the time to alter the team - perhaps dramatically, although that might not even be possible with the abundance of no-trade clauses saddling the roster.
“That’s the reality of the business. People get traded, that’s just the reality of it,” Thornton said.
Should the players be worried?
“Maybe, if we’re not getting the job done,” Logan Couture said.
The Sharks lost on Friday with a combination of poor play, questionable penalty calls and bad bounces. Still, the better team won, even if the game-winning goal came on a freaky bounce on a center ice dump-in by Marcus Kruger, who scored on his own rebound after the puck skidded towards Niemi and off of the post.
Chicago had the advantage in shots, 37-28, and its second-ranked penalty-killing unit kept the Sharks’ dismal power play off of the board. In net, Ray Emery outplayed former Blackhawks goalie Niemi.
“Let’s face it, tonight one team was fast, moved pucks, attacked. Another team bobbled pucks, misplayed them and was slow. It’s as simple as that,” McLellan said.
“We don’t look fast now, for whatever reason. A lot of that is execution. We’ll have to look at the way we’re playing. We’ve tried just about every line combination possible, so we’ll keep working at that. The only thing we can do is get back to work.”
The Sharks talked on Friday morning about getting more shots on net, after they failed to record at least 30 four times in the last six games. Instead, they had trouble doing just that against Emery, who was starting his fourth game of the season and first at the United Center.
Halfway through regulation, the Sharks had a paltry 11 shots on goal. They finished with 28.
“We changed it a little bit in the third and late second, where we were just shooting pucks on net and creating more chances, and that’s something we should have done at the start of the game,” Couture said. “Emery wasn’t handling anything clean, and pucks were coming off him. Second chances were sitting there, and we’ve got to find ways to find the second chances and put them in. That’s what they did.”
Dave Bolland made it 1-0 when he deposited his own rebound. Bolland was left alone while Patrick Kane drove the net drawing two Sharks defenders, and his goal at 19:16 of the first period gave the Blackhawks the lead.
Kruger’s goal was not as preventable, and can be chalked up to bad luck.
“I saw the puck bouncing way before me, so I don’t want to go charging there,” Niemi said. “Then it bounced twice, and I didn’t see that coming.”
Thornton said: “It seems like when you’re slumping a little bit, the bad bounces find their way to the back of the net.”
Tim Kennedy’s marker from Couture cut the lead in half, but Andrew Shaw scored on the power play at 14:40 of the second and Niklas Hjalmersson put the final nail in the coffin with a third period slapper from the point that beat Niemi cleanly at 6:26 of the third.
The Sharks returned to the Bay Area immediately following the game. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a different group could fly to St. Louis on Monday, or appear in Chicago for the final game of the season series here in one week.
“I think everybody needs to be concerned about the performance of the team – players, managers, we’re all in it together,” McLellan said. “When you start pointing fingers at one individual, there’s three pointing right back at you. Let’s all clean up what we do, whether we’re a coach or a player, and let’s perform to our abilities.”
Thornton said: “We’ve had a lot of guys that have been traded in here, so it’s part of the business.”
If the losses keep mounting, there are sure to be a few more.