CHICAGO One of the strongest aspects of the Sharks game this season has been their ability to win faceoffs. But in a 3-2 overtime loss to Chicago on Sunday night at United Center, that may have been what cost them the extra point in the standings.
At least, thats how Joe Pavelski and Todd McLellan saw it. Pavelski lost a key defensive zone draw that led to Andrew Brunettes tying goal at 18:54 of the third period, before Patrick Sharp won it in overtime.
We cant lose the faceoffs at the end like that, said Pavelski, whose team lost the battle in the circle, 15-10, in the third period.
It sounds like such a little thing, but believe me, its a big factor when you think about it, said McLellan.
The Sharks entered the game second in the league at winning draws, at 53.8 percent, and had won the faceoff battle in 11 straight games. In the third period, their inability to win draws may have been the result of being worn out by playing their third game in four nights, while Chicago had been off since Thursday.
Trailing 2-1 entering the third period, the Blackhawks controlled play in the Sharks zone for most of the final 20 minutes and overtime, outshooting them 21-4 in the process. That was a complete opposite of the first two periods in which San Jose held a 33-13 advantage in shots.
I think it was pretty evident one team had played three games in four nights and the other one was fresh, said McLellan. We ran out of gas a little bit in the third.
Antti Niemi made some key saves in holding the fort for most of the final frame, including a brilliant pad stop on Hossa with about 15 minutes left.
But, the Blackhawks tied it when Brunette deflected a blast by Hossa from the point with 1:06 remaining and goaltender Ray Emery pulled for an extra attacker.
Sharp gave the Blackhawks the extra point with just 33.2 seconds left in overtime. Again it was Hossa with the primary assist, as he blasted it towards the net from the top of the circle with Sharp in position on Brent Burns to tip it in.
Hossa shot it on the ice, I got a stick on it and it bounced up, and their guy was the first there to the puck, said Niemi.
The loss put a damper on some noticeable improvements to the Sharks game as compared to some of their recent efforts, including back-to-back shutouts on the road to Los Angeles on Nov. 28 and St. Louis on Saturday night. For one, the power play, although it didnt convert, looked much improved.
In the first period, Patrick Marleau had a couple good looks at the side of the net, and Emery made a quick glove save on a laser from the stick of Pavelski.
Tonight our power play was definitely more dangerous and created good momentum, said Pavelski.
Even so, the Sharks are mired in a 1-for-27 slump over their last eight games, and didnt have any power plays after the first period.
The penalty kill was also better, going 3-for-3 in killing one Blackhawks power play in each of the three frames.
I think we played a pretty good game, especially the first two periods, said Niemi, who fell to 4-2 in his career against Chicago. I think we did lots of good things that we can take from this game tonight. I think we worked very hard tonight, and our penalty killing was pretty good, too.
I liked a lot of things about our game tonight, said McLellan. Its something we can build on. We played against a very good team and played very well for two periods.
The Sharks took an early lead thanks to Jamie McGinns fourth goal in the last six games. Michal Handzus threw a soft backhand towards the net, where McGinn whacked it through Emery after a couple tries at 16:25.
The Blackhawks tied the game in the second but not for long.
Niklas Hjalmarssons blast was deflected on its way to the net at least twice, including off of Marcus Kruger, who was credited with his third goal at 7:53 of the second period.
Just one minute and 45 seconds later, the Sharks fourth line generated a goal after providing good energy throughout the first two periods. Brad Winchester found Braun at the top of the circle, and the defenseman's wrister got nothing but net for his first this season.
San Jose continued to pressure.
On a two-on-one rush, Jason Demers skated the puck towards the net and tried sneaking it through the near post, but Emery made the pad save. With less than five minutes remaining, Martin Havlat got the puck alone in front of the net on a nice feed from Logan Couture, but Emery denied his attempted deke with a low pad stop, keeping Chicago in the game long enough for them to tie and eventually win it.
The shots were totally lopsided for the first two periods, and playing last night you wouldnt think so, said Thornton.
From there, though, the Blackhawks took over territorially in winning their sixth game out of eight.
We played well. We really did, said Thornton. We played 59 solid minutes and we probably should have had the two points. If we continue this, thats a pretty good team over there that we did a pretty good job against, and thats a good sign.
Odds and ends: Douglas Murray (right hand) and Jim Vandermeer (upper body) remained out. Defenseman Matt Irwin, recalled from Worcester earlier in the day, was a healthy scratch along with Frazer McLaren. ... Andrew Murray returned to the lineup after a two-game absence.