Blackhawks losing streak hits three with loss to Sharks

Blackhawks losing streak hits three with loss to Sharks

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Blackhawks had hoped the weekend break would have its desired effect, that they would get back to playing the way they did earlier this season. Instead, it was another game lost in the waning minutes.

Dennis Rasmussen scored his fourth goal of the season but Tomas Hertl scored the game-winning goal with 2:03 remaining in regulation as the San Jose Sharks beat the Blackhawks 3-1 on Tuesday night.

The Blackhawks, now on a three-game losing streak, remain in second in the Western Conference, six points behind the Minnesota Wild. The Wild also still have three games in hand. In the Central Division the Blackhawks still have a nine-point edge over the Nashville Predators, who lost to Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

But this was the latest opportunity the Blackhawks had to get some points, any points, only to come up empty. 

"Two minutes to go there, you just want to get it to overtime and look for the extra point there. Three games in a row we've given up some points, whether it's one, two, three, four, five or six. But you get zero it's a tough pill to swallow," coach Joel Quenneville said. "You have to make sure you're not scored upon at any time, particularly that time of the game."

There were a few odd bounces in this one, and the Sharks capitalized on one late. The puck bounced off the back boards, off Corey Crawford and to Hertl, who scored for a 2-1 Sharks lead.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!] 

"I don't know. I don't think we want to chalk it up to a fluky bounce. But it was a bounce and they ended up getting it in," Duncan Keith said. "Tough way to lose the game, last two minutes."

We've talked plenty about what the Blackhawks have given up in third periods – they lost leads and games to both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Winnipeg Jets prior to the All-Star break. But it's also what they haven't done on their end. The Blackhawks' offense has gone quiet, not scoring a third-period goal since it had two against the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 22.

"I don't know how much we really gave up but I think we can generate more offense and obviously going into the third period we gotta bear down and keep it simple and just find a way to get it done," Keith said.

Patrick Marleau gave the Sharks a second-period lead with his power-play goal, the 499th goal of his career. Marleau had been denied a goal earlier in the game when the Blackhawks reviewed for offside. About three minutes after Marleau's good goal, Rasmussen scored his fourth of the season.

"Yeah, I feel like we had a good play there, Seabs [Brent Seabrook] and [Richard] Panik were good in the defensive zone. I got an opportunity and it was lucky to go in," Rasmussen said. "It still feels really tough when we end up losing. That's all that matters."

Yes, the Blackhawks are struggling to get any points right now. The third periods, so good for them for so long, are now becoming an issue. What their giving up is one thing. What they're producing – or in this case, not – is just as problematic.

"I didn't mind our games prior to the break except the third periods in both of those games," Quenneville said. "Tonight, we weren't bad. But we need to be better."

How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

The Blackhawks turned in their best 60-minute effort of the young season in Monday’s 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. They controlled the pace of play, got terrific goaltending from Corey Crawford and tightened up defensively.

But they also showed that they added a new layer to their team game this season.

The Blackhawks registered 36 hits against the Oilers, one of which was thunderously delivered by Andrew Shaw, sparking a scrum. Brent Seabrook led the team with six hits, Calvin de Haan had five and Drake Caggiula and Olli Maatta each had four. Heck, even Alex DeBrincat (three) and Patrick Kane (one) got in on the action.

It’s an element of their game that’s been missing the last few seasons and something they feel is important to their overall team success because it keeps other teams honest.

"I don't know if it's because of the personnel we have or the way we want to be strong and competitive and win battles, but obviously the other night we had a lot of finished hits and a lot of physicality that brings up the morale on the bench, which is a good thing," Kane said. "You look at Shawzy's hit, the stuff he's been doing early in the season — whether it's scoring big goals or sticking up for guys after they get hit — it's been awesome for the team. That's something that can really help us. We also need to play a little bit more with the puck, but it's a way we can get the puck back."

The Blackhawks don’t necessarily want to lead the NHL in the hits category, but they do want to establish an identity centered around being a difficult team to play against and adding that dimension is part of it. So is team unity.

"I don't think it's going to be our go-to in the way we're going to beat teams," Jonathan Toews said. "There's no doubt we've got guys that can mix it in. We saw last game with Shawzy and Murph, and [Ryan Carpenter] and [Zack Smith] and go down the list of guys. Even [Caggiula] and [DeBrincat] were throwing the weight around a couple days ago. It's definitely part of our game — we can play with energy and I think it's going to be there when we're ready to go. But our game is puck possession and keeping teams in their end and outplaying them in that sense.”

Through four games this season, the Blackhawks are averaging 33.0 hits per game. The previous two seasons they averaged 16.5 and 16.8, respectively, which ranked 30th.

While it's still early, there's clearly an uptick in the physicality department and it's exactly what the organization was hoping for after bringing in players like Shaw and Smith to add some bite to the roster. The Blackhawks are focused on becoming a team that can win in several different ways and play any kind of style.

"There’s a difference between running around just trying to get a tick on the stat sheet," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "But we definitely want to be physical when we have the chance and force the opposition to make plays before they're ready, and we can create turnovers and transition and offense and get out of D zone. We have some guys who like to play that way and I think it helps our team." 

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Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

During the Blackhawks' training camp festival on Sept. 15, coach Jeremy Colliton discovered a combination he's grown to like in David Kampf, Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad. And it's the only trio that's stuck together through training camp and into the regular season.

On paper, it's not a sexy line. But they all bring different elements and it's translating to on-ice success.

When the three of them are on the ice together at even strength, the Blackhawks are controlling 59.7 percent of the shot attempts, 68.6 of the scoring chances and 76.9 percent of the high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

When they aren't on the ice at even strength? The Blackhawks are controlling 47.6 percent of the shot attempts, 46.2 percent of the scoring chances and 41.7 percent of the high-danger chances. 

Those are ridiculous numbers for a third line, and they're doing it against top competition, too.

On Saturday against Winnipeg, the Saad-Kampf-Kubalik line was tasked with going up against the Jets' Big Three of Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler and held them to three shots on goal for and three against in 14:06 of 5-on-5 ice time together. And on Monday against Edmonton, it kept one of the best lines in hockey in check, with Leon Draisaitl, Zack Kassian and Connor McDavid recording a minus-6 shot attempt differential in 15:25 of 5-on-5 ice time together.

The biggest mistake Colliton has made this season was separating the trio in the home opener after Kubalik scored a goal and recorded five shots on goal in the first period. He wanted to get the first line going and provide a spark by rewarding Kubalik, but the third line was dominant in the opening 20 minutes — it generated 10 scoring chances at 5-on-5 in only 4:30 together — and moving Kubalik away from Kampf and Saad really affected both lines in a negative way.

But don't expect Colliton to make that same mistake anytime soon. He learned his lesson and that's the last line he's going to touch if he's looking for a shakeup.

"They all just got real big motors, big engine," Colliton said. "They work and compete and they all bring a little bit different ingredient. Obviously like Saad is an accomplished, proven performer. He takes the puck to the net. He's a horse there. He's really hard to get the puck off, he transports it from D zone to the offensive zone, he can make those plays.

"I think Kampy is a workhorse. He takes a lot of responsibility defensively and can transport the puck from one end to another. Then you got Kubby, he's got a bomb. I've been very impressed with his play away from the puck. That's been a surprise for me. So now he can play on that line because he does so many responsible things. He wins a lot of races, he's a great forechecker. So, pleased with that line."

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