CHICAGO – The chances were there, but the goals were not in a 4-1 Sharks loss to the Blackhawks at United Center on Sunday night. The three takeaways from San Jose’s only appearance in the Windy City, at least in the regular season…
1 – Hanging with Chicago
As they have been several times in recent years, the Blackhawks may again be the best team in the Western Conference. They sit atop the NHL standings with 48 points after Sunday’s win, are 13-2-3 at home and 6-0-1 in their last seven.
The Sharks, though, hung with them, outshooting Chicago 34-26 and getting more scoring chances.
“We felt like we played a fairly good game early on, and it gets away from us there at the end,” Joe Pavelski said. “It was definitely a game that was there for us.”
The Blackhawks simply capitalized on their chances, while the Sharks didn’t, particularly in the second period when they were dominating possession while leading, 1-0. The biggest difference in the game was in net, as Martin Jones had a rare off night while Scott Darling was brilliant.
Pete DeBoer said: “To their credit, their goalie was excellent in the second period and weathered the storm. It’s a dangerous team, they don’t need many looks to find the back of the net.”
2 – Finding their energy
I asked DeBoer before the game which team he would rather be – the Sharks, who hadn’t skated at all since Friday’s game in Montreal, or the Blackhawks, who were playing the second of a back-to-back with travel.
“It’s a good question,” said the coach, who wouldn’t commit one way or the other.
The first period was, frankly, boring, as both teams looked slow and out and sync. But the pace picked up in the second and third periods, and it turned into a pretty good hockey game between two contending teams.
“I felt really good out there. I think a lot of guys did,” Chris Tierney said.
The condensed schedule due to the World Cup, and the silly “bye week” that the players requested, has made the regular season a hectic one. While the Sharks were concluding a stretch of four road games in six nights, Chicago was playing its fifth game in nine days. It can make for bad hockey at times.
“Both teams are playing a lot of games in a few days right now. We’re at the end of a road trip, and we’ve flown a lot. Both teams are [under the] same circumstances,” Logan Couture said.
3 – Solid road trip
Getting six points out of eight is commendable, as the Sharks went 3-1-0 on their four-game trip and are in first place in the Pacific Division by two points over Anaheim and Edmonton.
Couture said: “[The trip] was good. We didn’t play our best. I thought we got better as the trip went on. That’s a really good hockey team over there, and we played a pretty tight game against them.”
The focus now will be to finish strong at home against division opponents Calgary and Edmonton before the three-day Christmas break begins on Saturday.
“There’s not many more [games] here before the break so we have to try to put these points in the bank here before a little time off,” Pavelski said.