Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sharks bite hawks, 3-2, retake top spot in the West.

The San Jose Sharks relied on outstanding goaltending, solid penalty killing & an opportunistic attack to beat the hawks at the UC, to gain a measure of revenge for their 7-2 thrashing last month in California.

The hawks got an early powerplay and created several chances, but failed to convert and shortly after the expiration of the San Jose penalty, the sharks struck, with Dany Heatley in behind Seabrook on a 3 on 2 break, taking a pass from Dan Boyle and waiting for Huet to go down before lifting it over the hawk netminder's shoulder from a bad angle to end Huet's shutout streak.

The hawks had two more powerplay chances later in the period and outshot San Jose 15-4 overall in the period, but Nabakov was solid in net, turning aside everything he faced.

The hawks ran into some penalty trouble of their own late in the period which offset part of their 3rd powerplay, tho Joe Thornton helped offset a subsequent San Jose powerplay by knocking down Brouwer in the last 10 seconds of the period.

In the second, the hawks got another early powerplay when Jamie McGinn tripped Huet in the crease and got nailed witha goaltender interference call. That occurred moments after Huet was barreled over in his crease off a rush, with no call made. As the play was called for McGinn's penalty, Bryan Bickell & Frazer McLaren started pushing & shoving in the shark zone and dropped the gloves, with McLaren getting Bickell down & his helmet off & landing a few more than he took, tho no major damage was done.

On the ensuing hawk powerplay, the sharks took advantage of a Versteeg turnover at center and broke in two on one, Pavelski & Thornton with Seabrook back. Pavelski flipped a saucer pass over the sliding Seabrook that connected with Thornton, and with Huet again going down early, Thornton simply flipped it high & into the open net, scoring shorthanded to put the sharks up 2-0.

Later, Patrick Sharp took a retaliation penalty after Heatley threw a solid check into him along the right corner boards in the hawk zone. Sharp took exception to the hard hit and punched Heatley and took two for roughing. The hawks managed to kill off the penalty, and were soon on another powerplay of their own, but again could not get one by Nabakov, who was sharp all evening.

Byfuglien later took a goaltender interference penalty as the hawks tried to get to Nabakov - fortunately they were able to kill off the penalty and keep the deficit at 2 heading into the 3rd period, despite outshooting San Jose 11-3 in the 2nd and 26 to 7 in the game to that point.

In the 3rd, the hawks finally got on the scoresheet just over four minutes in after Hossa set up Kane in the slot. Nabakov made the initial save, but gave a rebound & Kane lifted it up high with Nabakov only being able to get a piece of the puck & it was 2-1, game on.

The sharks however responded on the very next shift as they broke in 3 on 2 after a nice outlet pass from their own zone that sprung Thornton & Heatley with Dman Jason Demers jumping up into the play to make it a 3-2. The hawks forwards got a little overanxious to tie it after having just scored and got trapped inside the San Jose zone on the play. After taking a pass from Heatley who was moving down the left side, Thornton found unchecked Demers moving late into the high slot and he fired a shot off the ice that beat Huet stick side and the sharks were up by 2 again, only 20 seconds after the hawks had pulled within one.

On the next shift, Troy Brouwer took a high sticking penalty and the hawks comeback effort was put on hold.

To their credit, the hawks kept pushing forward when they could, tho not as aggressively, respecting the sharks counterattack ability after having been burned with odd man rushes. Over 13 minutes in, they got yet another pp opportunity, their 7th on the night, when Thornton cross-checked Ladd during a scrum in front of the shark net. The hawks pressured on the powerplay but yet again could not beat Nabakov, thus going -1 for 7 on the night with the man advantage.

A couple of minutes later, the two captains got into it and were both sent off with roughing minors, and on the ensuing 4 on 4, the hawks pulled their goaltender, and managed to convert when Kane from his usual spot on the right half boards, found Hossa down low at the goalmouth to the left of Nabakov. Hossa's shot hit a shark defender's stick & somehow found room between Nabakov & the net to make it 3-2 with just under 2 minutes left.

The hawks lost the subsequent faceoff at center and precious seconds off the clock as the sharks were able to control the puck for about 30 seconds before the hawks finally regained possession at their own line and were able to pull Huet for the extra attacker. By then, the penalties to Blake & Toews were pretty much over, making it a more difficult 6 on 5 skater rather than a 5 on 4 situation. The hawks did gain the zone & were able to pressure and threaten, however could not dent the net again and fell 3-2.

The hawks outshot San Jose 21-7 in the 3rd and managed to at least outscore them in the period 2-1, but lost for the first time at home since Nashville beat them 4-1 early in the month. The game can be summed up by the difference in goaltending and the inability of the hawks to convert on the powerplay, even giving up a shorthanded goal, and thus going -1 for 7 with the man advantage.

Despite giving up only 14 shots against the entire game, (the hawks had more than that total in the 1st AND 3rd periods), they still gave up three goals and lost, which will focus the attention on goaltending yet again, after Huet had registered back to back shutouts in his previous two starts.

Huet looked weak on all three goals - and while he made a couple of good saves early in the 3rd to keep his team in the game, giving up 3 questionable goals on 14 shots when his counterpart was playing extremely well at the other end can't help but give some pause for thought whether the goaltending is up to the challenge when faced with tough, pressure tests.

While defensive breakdowns contributed to the goals by allowing odd man rushes against, it is not realistic to think the hawks goalies are never going to face such situations especially against contending teams. Adding to the concern is that Huet did not appear sharp on any of the goals he let in.

On the first shark goal, Keith was in the slot and approaching Heatley, cutting off his opportunity to perhaps move back in front, which effectively limited his options to taking a low angle shot, yet Huet did not appear to recognize that and instead of standing up, playing the limited angle & holding his ground, he went down early, giving Heatley opportunity to simply continue skating to an even sharper angle to find a huge hole up high which he promptly exploited.

On the second goal, it may be more difficult to fault Huet as it was a clear 2 on 1, however, as the play developed, it became clear with Seabrook going down on the ice to prevent the pass, that Pavelski's options were to either shoot high (to get it over Seabrook & avoid having it blocked), or attempt a difficult saucer pass over Seabrook (that would give Huet some time to move over while still remaining upright). Nevertheless when the pass connected with Thornton, Huet went down early again, leaving himself deep in the net & vulnerable up high which is exactly where Thornton flipped the puck, beating him with a crucial shorthanded goal to make it 2-0.

The third goal was another odd man rush, where Huet stayed back in his net, instead of reading the developing play and aggressively challenging it, thus giving the shooter more net to shoot at and Demers found an opening with what looked like a stoppable wrist shot, the first one against after the hawks had just scored - a huge goal to give up.

It wouldn't be fair to place the entire blame on Huet - the hawks offense must also take its share of responsibility for not capitalizing on any of their powerplay opportunities, which would likely have made the difference in the outcome. The powerplay continues to be very inconsistent, too often struggling to convert.

This was a meaningful game - the sharks had played the night before in Dallas and first in the conference was at stake with the schedule getting much less friendly for the hawks. And while they thoroughly outplayed the sharks and perhaps deserved a better result, if they want to lay claim to best in the west, their powerplay and goaltending needs to come up bigger in big games against the top opponents than they did tonight.

The hawks were again without Barker & Eager, though Hendry & Bickell again filled in adequately.

The only good news on the night was that division rival Nashville lost to Vancouver, and thus remained two points back with the hawks having two games in hand.

The hawks next face a rested (tho still hurt) Detroit team to close out the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule before a big home and home weekend with 2nd place Nashville.

No comments:

Post a Comment