By Brad Gardner
The San Jose Sharks came to Chicago losers of six straight games, and they met an unfavorable host in the unbeaten Blackhawks.
The home team never trailed, getting another solid goaltending performance from Ray Emery. The scoring was provided by depth players, in most cases known more for their defensive acumen than offensive game, with goals from Dave Bolland, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw, and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
It was not scoring, however, but fisticuffs that got the Chicago crowd into the game early. Jonathan Toews was whistled for a boarding penalty on Joe Thornton in the corner, and shortly after, things boiled over between Toews and Thornton and the captains squared off for a first period fight.
Thornton threw and landed more punches, finishing with a solid shot that had Toews calling it. In addition to the initial boarding call, Toews also earned an unsportsmanlike penalty to put the Sharks on a four minute man advantage.
Emery came up big on a one-timer from the slot from Patrick Marleau, but the Hawks did a better job of keeping San Jose from establishing much else in the offensive end. Marleau eventually took an interference penalty with just over half a minute remaining on the Sharks’ power play, making it four-on-four hockey.
Dave Bolland capitalized on the open ice with 43.9 seconds left in the first period to put the home team up 1-0. Duncan Keith sent a quick breakout pass to Patrick Kane, who dropped the puck off to Bolland in the zone as he continued on to the net. Bolland made a strong move around Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart to get off his initial chance, followed his shot, and beat everyone to the rebound to send the Blackhawks to the locker room with the lead.
The power play was unable to convert on the chance that carried over into the second period, but the Hawks forwards still came up with a couple good looks in the opening minutes of the middle frame.
Marcus Kruger eventually scored an even strength goal 3:05 into the period, extending the lead to 2-0. It was another case of a forward following his shot, although in Kruger’s case he received a couple favorable bounces. His dump into the zone skipped in on goal, bouncing over Niemi’s glove and off the goal post. The puck came right back to Kruger, who had Niemi beat as soon as he touched the puck.
The Sharks did not back down after the second goal and were able to pull back within a goal about two minutes later. Tim Kennedy, playing in only his second game of the season with the Sharks, got open on a rush and was able to beat Emery. As Duncan Keith stepped up against the San Jose zone entry, the puck took a Sharks bounce off the boards and past Keith, giving the Sharks the odd-man rush. Seabrook stepped up to close the gap on Logan Couture, who was able to drop the puck off to an open Kennedy. Marian Hossa was even with Kennedy when he entered the zone but did not follow him to the net. Emery aggressively tried to take away Kennedy’s shot but he pulled the puck to his backhand and finished in an open net.
Minor penalties continued to hamper the Sharks in the second period, however, and Andrew Shaw registered a power play goal late in the second to push the Blackhawks’ lead back to two goals. Keith was able to walk in and let go of a low, hard shot on Niemi. Shaw collected the rebound off the goalie’s pads and got an in-close opportunity of his own. The puck bounced up in the air, may have deflected off one of the sticks trying to get a piece of it, and then bounced off of Niemi before crossing the goal line. The goal made it 3-1, which was a lead the Hawks carried into the second intermission.
Although the Sharks began to get some good looks late in the second and into the third period, Ray Emery remained perfect after giving up the Kennedy goal. Martin Havlat had a golden opportunity to cut into the lead in the second period off a Viktor Stalberg turnover, but Emery got the pad down in time.
In the third, Emery received a little help from the goal post on a chance from Adam Burish. Michal Handzus sent a slap shot on goal and Emery gave up a juicy rebound to Burish as he skated by. His shot drew iron and Emery was able to turn and corral the puck with his stick to get the whistle.
Even by that time, victory had been all but assured by a Niklas Hjalmarsson slap shot that found it’s way over Niemi’s shoulder and into the back of the net. The puck actually bounced off the back bar and right back out, but the goal was quickly called on the ice and confirmed on video. Hjalmarsson’s first goal of the season at 6:28 of the third period capped the scoring as the Hawks came away with a 4-1 victory.
– The Blackhawks’ special teams units came up big, with a perfect night from the penalty kill in four opportunities and a big goal in the second period from the power play. The Hawks technically had five opportunities on the man advantage, but the first lasted only 18 seconds.
– Dave Bolland had an excellent first period – the goal, 4 shots, and 80% winning percentage at the faceoff dot. He did not make as much of an impact in the second or third and did not register another shot the rest of the way.
– Marcus Kruger had the puck finding him tonight – in addition to the loose puck he put into the net, he was the beneficiary of a weird bounce of the endboards on a Hjalmarsson PK clear. Kruger’s shot didn’t have much of a chance of beating Niemi, but he has been finding himself in the right place at the right time of late.
– Corey Crawford is day-to-day and did not suit up for Friday’s game. Henrik Karlsson, acquired last month from the Calgary Flames, was recalled from Rockford to dress as Emery’s back-up. The injury is suspected to be a concussion, possibly related to Crawford’s collision with Bobby Ryan on Tuesday against the Ducks.
– Emery’s strong play should ease some of the concern regarding Crawford’s injury. He has yet to lose a game in four starts and has only gotten better in the first half of February. Some of his best saves of the the night were against former Blackhawks, which probably says more about the play of the San Jose top line tonight than anything.
– 3rd star of the game: Ray Emery, 2nd star: Jonathan Toews, 1st star: Marcus Kruger
– Next game is Sunday as the Blackhawks host the Los Angeles Kings. The game will begin at 2:30pm and be shown on NBC as part of the network’s coverage of Hockey Day in America.