By Brad Vandenberk
The time is almost upon us. Yes that’s right, a completed Blackhawks roster. Although the Hawks haven’t been bitten by the injury bug all that much, they have had their scares.
Steve Montador was the first victim, having his concussion symptoms come back during training camp. Next up was Dan Carcillo, who injured his knee early in the year, saw his first game in over month tonight against the Sharks. Michal Rozsival tweaked his knee and missed a few games. Then Corey Crawford suffered an upper body injury just a week ago giving Ray Emery the keys to the crease. Then, Brent Seabrook missed his first game of the year against the Canucks suffering a lower body injury. The latest saw Marian Hossa take a forearm to the back of the head and being immediately helped off the ice, not returning to the game. The perpetrator, Jannik Hansen, received a 1 game suspension for the incident and Hossa will not miss any action.
This team has worked through losing some of their best players and still tying records. The team’s depth is really starting to show while these injuries occur. The Sharks entered the United Center Friday night, trying to be the first team to beat these Hawks in regulation; this would be the last meeting of the year with the Hawks owning the first two. The record currently stands at 16 games without a regulation loss. Carcillo was welcomed back on the fourth line playing alongside Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger. Jamal Mayers, Brandon Bollig and Sheldon Brookbank were the ones on the outside looking in. Crawford is back in the line up, but Emery got the start tonight. In net for the Sharks was Hawks ex – Niemisis.
During the warm ups, Sharks bench boss Todd McLellan, was spotted on his bench viewing the line combinations that the Hawks were running. Usually this is not done by the head coach, but it takes all hands on deck to spoil a record season. The opening period was a bit of a feeling out stage. Both teams had their fair share of chances. Niemi didn’t look as out of place as the previous two matches. This time it was Emery who was sliding around his crease leaving a few great opportunities to put the Sharks on the board. Ryan Clowe had a wide open net while Emery was showing off his best curling impression. During that same sequence, Logan Couture fired a shot right over the net. Johnny Toews line dominated early. Brandon Saad and Hossa shared quality scoring chances. Hawks begin to pick up the pace and show why they are the best team in the league. Their back check helped out at key times with Emery trying to find his crease. It didn’t take long for Carcillo to show his presence. He was throwing his body around like a human pinball. The fourth line, as always, had a few chances, with Frolik shattering his stick on a slap shot from the far side of the ice. Rozsival receives a great pass out front and wires it point blank but Niemi is there. Saad drops and unsuspecting pass back to Hossa who swings and misses for strike one. As the clock ticks down to end the period, the Hawks get caught on a 3 on 2. Joe Thornton takes a shot on net and Patrick Marleau makes no mistake sweeping it past Emery putting the Sharks up 1-0 with 14.2 seconds remaining. The Hawks out shoot the Sharks 11-8.
Seems like coach Q took a page from Todd McLellan as the Hawks opened up the second period with a few line adjustments of their own. Carcillo was back on his normal line with Toews and Hossa, while Saad was skating with Dave Bolland and Patrick Kane. The first penalty of the game was given when Michal Handzus could not keep up with Toews and gets called for hooking. The Sharks do a great job on the penalty kill getting into the Hawks shooting lanes. Carcillo brought some energy to the first line stirring things up in front of Niemi before and after the whistle. Suddenly Q’s lines are back to normal. TJ Galiardi sends Kruger flying across the boards and the Hawks get another man advantage. Viktor Stalberg works the front of the net but the Sharks are again in the shooting lanes preventing any chances on goal. Now it was the Hawks turn to head to the penalty box. Bolland gets his stick under Tim Kennedy’s arm and a holding call is assessed. The Hawks do an incredible job killing the penalty and Toews even creates a 2 on 1 with Hossa while shorthanded. With just 3:20 left in the second, Stalberg breaks in with Kane and flicks a shot on net. It finds its way past Niemi and the crowd erupts with a 1-1 tie. Sharks defensemen Brent Burns has Saad lined up coming over the blue line. Good thing the 20 year old looked up or he would have been drinking from a straw on Saturday morning. As the period is about to end, Roszival can’t contain the speedy Sharks forwards and gets called for holding. The period ends with 6 seconds of power play time left for the Sharks with the score tied at 1 and the Hawks leading in shots 21-14.
It didn’t take long for the Hawks to give the Sharks another power play. Brent Seabrook busts out the good old can opener and trips Couture. As the penalty is about to end, Saad takes the puck from the Hawks zone and rushes up the wing. He fires a shot off the far post and it beats Niemi electrifying the crowd and giving Saad his 3rd of the year and his first shorthanded goal of his career. Bolland was practising his invisible act, as he was not on the bench during the final period. This forced coach Q to switch up his centers. Kane, Shaw and Stalberg, came right back after the shorthanded goal and continued the pressure in the Sharks zone. Kane takes exception to a Tom Wingels check and slashes his ankle. Shaw comes in a mixes it up with Handzus. No calls were made and the refs made up for it later as Bickell finished his check on Adam Burish and gets an interference penalty. Emery found his game and was the difference maker during the Sharks power play making some key saves. Once the Hawks were back at full strength they continued pouring on the pressure. Shaw keeps a puck in the zone and finds a wide open Stalberg, but Niemi keeps it close. With the fans on their feet cheering the Hawks to NHL History, Shaw hits Joe Pavelski from behind and Ryan Clowe takes initiative and goes after Shaw. They both get penalties but it doesn’t matter as your Chicago Blackhawks make NHL history acquiring at least 1 point in their first 17 games beating the previous record of 16 held by the Anaheim Ducks.
-The Hawks outshot the Sharks 34 -27
-Duncan Keith led all Hawks again in TOI with 22:29. Seabrook (21:17), Hjalmarsson (20:51) and Oduya (20:13) followed.
-Toews dominated the faceoff dot once again winning 15 out of 19
-Hawks went 0 for 2 on the power play with the Sharks going 0 for 4
-Dave Bolland was not on the bench for the 3rd period. He won 6 of 10 faceoffs.
-Dan Carcillo had a great first game back in the line up playing 8:20.
-Ray Emery wins his 7 game and his 7-0-0 this season.
-The Hawks next test is on Sunday as the Blue Jackets from Columbus visit the UC. The Hawks are looking to keep the streak alive, who will beat them?