Disturbing trends continued into the second quarter of the 2015-16 NHL season for the San Jose Sharks when they lost at home Wednesday, Nov. 25. atombash.com’s five pictured stars include four of the five multi-point scorers when the Chicago Blackhawks dealt the home team its sixth loss in nine games.
The overriding one is that San Jose is no longer home sweet home. Another loss takes away from the six-game winning streak through the Eastern Conference.
More importantly, the “Shark Tank” used to be widely known as one of the toughest trips for an opponent in the NHL. Now it is a vacation destination.
The Sharks were the best team in the NHL over the first two seasons following the third lockout in league history (all under commissioner Gary Bettman). Since winning the first two home games of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, they are 20-23-5 at SAP Center.
It is understandable that San Jose could have been tired after an Eastern Conference road trip that included six games in 10 days three time zones from home. However, all six of those games were won and there were over 72 hours between the end of that last game and the opening faceoff against Chicago.
At some point, the Sharks have to be able to defend their ice if they want to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Ending the trend of poor early play might help.
The early start did them in against the Blackhawks. The three-time Stanley Cup champions registered nine of the first 10 shots on goal and got the first goal before the midpoint of the first period: Patrick Kane continued his red-hot streak after delivering the puck from Calder Trophy-leader Artemi Panarin to Brent Seabrook for a slap-shot goal through traffic.
With just over six minutes left, Joonas Donskoi drew a tripping penalty from Ryan Garbutt. San Jose’s struggling power play actually got the struggling team going. Captain Joe Pavelski won the second man-advantage faceoff in the offensive zone and eventually got the puck back from Patrick Marleau to create a cross-ice feed for Brent Burns to one-time home.
However, Chicago’s captain came right back with a goal 88 seconds later to regain the lead when Andrew Shaw controlled the puck in the defensive zone. It was advanced to Garbutt, who absorbed Matt Tennyson’s hit just after passing to Jonathan Toews. Using Seabrook as a decoy with only one defender, the elite captain ripped a shot over the shoulder of Martin Jones into the corner of the net.
The Blackhawks led the rest of the way—49:53 in all. They added to their lead just over 12 minutes in to the second period after their failing on their third and final power play: Kane advanced the puck in the neutral zone just after the Sharks returned to even strength, Panarin dumped it in and it rimmed around for Duncan Keith to shoot through a screen by Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
San Jose got the game back within a goal in the final nine minutes of the game: Joel Ward won a faceoff back to Marleau, who executed a give-and-go exchange with Burns before skating across the slot and letting a wrist-shot rocket to the corner through traffic.
Unfortunately, Chicago again answered in just over a minute later: Niklas Hjalmarsson sent the puck to the crease where Tanner Kero was able to get a shot on net that bounced off goalie Martin Jones and into former Shark Andrew Desjardins and in 67 seconds after Marleau’s score. Shaw added an empty-net goal with 43 seconds left to seal the deal.
One thing that stands out in the play-by-play and event summary is the importance of possessions Wednesday. Both teams rely on that area of the game even more than most, and the Sharks got two goals off of faceoff wins while the Blackhawks got two from giveaways.
Overall, those stats leaned toward Chicago: San Jose had five more takeaways (9-4) but lost four more faceoffs (25-29) and had a whopping 15 more giveaways (24-9). The home team did not lack for effort, spending the extra time defending getting 17 more hits (36-19) and six more blocks (19-13) to get three more shots on net despite allowing 10 more attempts.
Still, the Sharks will need to make more plays to turn around their home woes and stay in a Stanley Cup-playoff position. They can start against the struggling Pacific Division-rival Calgary Flames Saturday night.