Blackhawks

Blackhawks shut out by Niemi, drop 3rd straight

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Blackhawks shut out by Niemi, drop 3rd straight

SAN JOSE, Calif. The Blackhawks were a much better team on Wednesday night. They were smarter, they were tougher and they were stingier.

Unfortunately for them, the opposing goaltender was just a little bit better.

Antti Niemi collected his first shutout of the season again his former team, as the Sharks edged the Blackhawks 1-0 at HP Pavilion on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks, missing Brent Seabrook for the fourth consecutive game and giving up 14 goals in their previous two games combined, were much better defensively.

For them, it was a start in the right direction.

Thats the standard for how we want to work, Jonathan Toews said. Were not happy with the result but were not going to let that hurt our confidence. We played the way we were supposed to play. Every guy was making predictable plays to the next guy. When you do that, team game flourishes.

Coach Joel Quenneville said shoring things up defensively being more responsible around the net, keeping quality chances down was the focal point.

Thats the way we wanted to play going into that game: play tight defensively, make sure the pucks ahead of us, he said. I thought we checked well and they got the fortunate bounce and scoring first was the difference. But if we play like that well find a way to get points.

The Blackhawks stronger defensive game was evident from the start. The Sharks werent getting much time in the Hawks zone, and when they did they didnt stay there long. The Sharks had just 11 shots in the first two periods combined.

The Sharks lone score came when Jason Demers power-play goal deflected off Toews and past Corey Crawford, who stopped 20 of 21.

It was a weird bounce, Crawford said. I thought it was going to stay on the ice but it just kind of jumped up.

Only problem was the Blackhawks couldnt get anything on the other end despite tons of time in the Sharks zone and 34 shots on goal. Credit Niemi for that frustration, as the netminder was stoic against his former team. Niemi came up big throughout the night, from his stop on Bryan Bickells breakaway early to denying Toews late.

He made big saves back there; we had a couple good opportunities to put a few by him. Im sure that was a big win for him, said Patrick Sharp. Weve had success against him in the past and well see him again in the future. Overall, it was just two good teams playing a pretty good 60 minutes on both sides.

The Blackhawks certainly arent happy that they lost their third in a row. They werent happy they couldnt get one past their former teammate. But they regained their defensive game. If they keep that better game, it will lead to better results.

Obviously you want a couple of points from this game. But when we we lose games like this we can take those, said Niklas Hjalmarsson. Its nothing like we lost in Edmonton and Calgary. At least today we had a good effort. If we keep playing like this well get points.

Briefly

Duncan Keith played a game-high 29:18, firing six shots on goal and blocking three shots.

Patrick Kane had a team-high seven shots on Niemi.

Michael Frolik returned to action after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury. He played just over 11 minutes.

A sneak peek at Cam Ward's new Blackhawks goalie mask

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USA TODAY

A sneak peek at Cam Ward's new Blackhawks goalie mask

It's a new year, new team for Cam Ward, who spent his first 13 NHL seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes before signing in Chicago on a one-year deal this summer. That means a newly-designed goalie mask is required to match up with his new team's colors, uniform and Blackhawks logo.

The designer of Ward's goalie masks Steve Nash, whose clients include 2017-18 Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck, two-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick and three-time 30-win netminder Martin Jones, shared a teaser on Twitter of Ward's new Blackhawks-themed mask for the upcoming season and it's sweet.

Check it out:

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

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Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

Ryan Hartman has been through this before. Back in December of 2012, he sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder but played through it because the Plymouth Whalers were in the middle of a playoff run. He waited until the offseason to have it surgically repaired and was cleared for contact just in time for him to attend his first training camp with the Blackhawks in September of 2013.

This time was a little different though.

Hartman had been acquired by the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Victor Ejdsell and a 2018 first- and fourth-round pick — a hefty price to pay — in hopes of serving as an additional spark plug for a Predators team looking to load up for a second consecutive Stanley Cup run.

So when Hartman was brushed by Nathan MacKinnon along the boards, lost his footing and fell on his left shoulder late in Game 4 of the first round against Colorado, he immediately knew something was up.

"It didn't feel great at all," said Hartman, who went straight to the dressing room and had team doctors pop it back into place. "I finished the game and was able to finish playoffs in like a modified sling, which sucked to play with, but it's playoffs. It's one of those things where there are many guys playing through injuries and I was one of them."

Hartman, who's been rehabbing and training in Chicago, received the green light to fully participate in hockey-related drills last Monday but was advised to delay his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut for one more week just to err on the side of caution. On Wednesday, he got back into a game-type setting and "felt good" after 50 minutes of action going up against former teammates Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane.

Now he can fully focus on this upcoming season and amp up his on-ice training to a level he couldn't get to while recovering from shoulder surgery with training camp a month away.

Hartman was a restricted free agent this summer and recently re-signed with the Predators on a one-year deal worth $875,000. Clearly, he's betting on himself to bounce back to his rookie year form when he scored 19 goals and cash out on a larger paycheck down the line, even though he had multiple longer-term offers from the Predators.

"Yeah we talked, [GM David Poile] wants me to be there, I want to be there, we have a good relationship," Hartman said. "Obviously, he gave up a lot of stuff to take me and sees me in the future of the team and I see myself there too. There's a lot of little things that go into negotiations — if it's money wise or length — and there was a various amount [of offers] that was thrown out on both sides. With no [arbitration] rights, the best thing for me and my team was to bet on myself, take the year and go from there next year."

With that comes the pressure of having to earn another contract for the second straight year, which is also risky considering he's coming off an injury that sidelined him all summer. But that's just the way he wants it.

"Either way I want to play my best, if I have a contract or not for long-term," Hartman said. "There is the benefit of having security with long-term deals, but you see guys, in history, that sign these deals and maybe have a year or two of, not really being complacent, but just feeling satisfied. I don't like the feeling of being satisfied. I'm not saying that's why I took that contract over another contract, but it was a good month and a half of debating one of the other three [offers]. My family and my agent, we chose this was the best for me and the team as well."

It's easy to see why the Predators are happy with this deal, too. Hartman is better suited to play in a bottom-six role on a really good team but has the ability to play in the top-six if needed. A strong season out of him and they'll be happy to reward him with a longer-term offer next summer. It also means he'd be making an impact while making less than $1 million, and every contending team needs those contributions from their depth players.

Pull up the Predators' CapFriendly page and you'll notice generous contract after generous contract for a majority of their players, particularly their core group. Look no further than Ryan Ellis, who signed an eight-year extension on Tuesday that carries a cap hit of $6.25 million. He certainly left money on the table but elected to take less to follow the lead of everyone else in Nashville because the ultimate goal is to keep the band together.

"You look at Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the league, isn't even making close to the most money in the league and that's a reason why they've won two Cups," Hartman said. "They have space, maybe not necessarily as much as the Preds do, but Poile's good at that, he's good at stressing winning, the importance of winning, and keeping a team together. Sometimes when you go year to year losing four or five players every summer, it takes a toll having to introduce yourself to new guys all the time. Keeping the same group is really beneficial."

The Predators won't have to do much introducing next month. They're essentially rolling back the same team that arguably would've reached the Stanley Cup Final if they had gotten past the Winnipeg Jets. Hartman will be an important part of that group, only this time he'll be there from the start.

"That's what I'm really excited for," he said. "It's tough coming in [halfway through the season], it kind of feels like ... it's your first time getting called up with the new team. You're adjusting, you're trying not to make a mistake, trying to earn a spot, per se, earn the respect of your peers, so having that and going through a playoff run and a Game 7, if you go through a Game 7 with anybody, it's a bond. The stuff you fight through and you play for each other, to be able to go through a training camp and the ups and downs throughout the whole season, it's going to be exciting. I fell in love with the group for the short time I was there and I'm excited to be there at the start of training camp."