NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at San Jose Sharks

Photo credit: Kelly Cox, USA Today Sports

The Sharks got off to such a promising start. It doesn’t get much better than two goals in the first 5:16. Even after Brandon Saad scored his first goal of the season to get the Blackhawks on the board, the Sharks responded quickly. A beautiful cross ice feed from Tommy Wingels to Michal Handzus pushed San Jose’s cushion back to two. But it was a sloppy effort from both teams, and when the team you’re facing is as fast and dangerous as Chicago is, you can’t afford to play sloppy.

The Blackhawks answered with a goal seven seconds after Handzus scored his — it was so quick, half of HP Pavilion didn’t realize they had scored. Then they tied the game after Marcus Kruger netted his first goal of the season 42 seconds later. It looked to be a wild game with plenty of back and forth, but the final 40 minutes was all Chicago.

The Sharks got their chances, but Corey Crawford settled down in net for the second and third period, walling-off every San Jose opportunity. On the other end, the Blackhawks took the lead in the second after Jonathan Toews stole the puck from Douglas Murray in front of the net and fed Patrick Kane in the high slot for a slam dunk. Stealing the puck seemed to be the theme on Tuesday night — the two teams combined for 18 takeaways, 10 of which went in Chicago’s favor.

The passing was sloppy, the defense was sloppy and surprise, surprise: the officiating was sloppy.

Was there a collective bargaining agreement with the NHL referees that nobody told me about? The most egregious call came in the second period, after Andrew Desjardins decked Jamal Mayers and was immediately accosted by Duncan Keith. Initially, the call was going to be five minutes each to Desjardins and Keith for fighting and four minutes to Keith for instigating with a visor. Then the officials huddled up and decided ex post facto that Desjardins must have been trying to kill Mayers, so they slapped him with a match penalty for unnecessary roughness.

It wasn’t 20 minutes past the game’s end before the NHL rescinded the match penalty and apologized to the Sharks. Maybe the folks in Toronto realized the hit was on Desjardins’ former linemate, or maybe their TVs were clear enough to see it was a totally clean it. Either way, it was too little too late, as the 4-on-4 resulted in Kane’s game winning goal.

Although the officiating certainly took a spotlight for the roughness call, the onus of this loss falls on the Sharks for several reasons:

1. The power play is an absolute graveyard lately. San Jose took another 0-for-4 in this game and all of the dangerous cycling and scoring opportunities they enjoyed in the first few games are gone. Dan Boyle was back for this game, so the culprit will have to be found elsewhere.

2. Douglas Murray was -3 last night. Murray was directly involved in more than one of the Blackhawks’ goals, the most important of which was Kane’s in the second period after Toews picked his pocket.

3. Maybe Todd McLellan is getting a little too cute with the line shifting lately. He moved Ryane Clowe onto the first line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski at the start of the second, pushing Patrick Marleau back to the second line with Logan Couture and Martin Havlat. Although the third line combination of Wingels, Handzus and James Sheppard was the most solid on Tuesday, lack of scoring from the top two lines doesn’t always necessitate breaking up one of the most dangerous trios in the NHL.

4. McLellan said it best: “We were sloppy.” Although he acknowledged the penalty to Desjardins was a terrible call, he also conceded the Sharks are now worn out.

“We need to rest. Mentally, we weren’t sharp. Physically, some guys need some rest.” They’ll get a little bit of it, with their next opponent, the Coyotes, coming to HP Pavilion Saturday for a matinee.