Friday, November 28, 2008

Sharks Beat Chicago for Thirteenth Straight Time

On Wednesday night, the San Jose Sharks extended their now league-leading active winning streak over the Chicago Blackhawks to 13 games. They did it in a way very contrary to how they won the two teams' first match-up, winning 3-2 in overtime rather than 6-5 in regulation. Instead of both teams taking five or more penalties, both were assessed only two.

The first line carried the weight as they have for the past six games, with all three forwards extending their scoring streaks to six games. Devin Setoguchi had an assist and Patrick Marleau had the game-tying goal in the third period on a wrap-around that was the first score against Christabol Huet.

Marleau missed two golden scoring opportunities, including one in which a prone and injured Nikolai Khabibulin was covering only the low portion of the far side of the net. Marleau shot the puck right into his pad, bringing the stoppage of play on Khabibulin's 24th save that allowed Chicago to replace him with Huet. This was one of the reasons it was inexplicable that Marleau got first star of the game, when Thornton had the game-winner 45 seconds into overtime and the primary assist on Marleau's goal.

Prior to the score, Thornton had to fight off the stick of a Chicago defender and slide the pass to Ryan Clowe, who returned it for the give-and-go one-timer and his second assist of the game. His first came on a five-on-three power play late in the first period, when he took a feed from Dan Boyle and got it to Rob Blake for the one-timer.

Sharks radio play-by-play announcer Dan Rusanowsky got the second star right: Chicago forward Jonathan Toews scored both Chicago goals, getting the tying score just past the mid-point and the go-ahead goal as a five-on-three penalty was two seconds from expiring early in the third period.

That power play started with a match penalty for boarding to Mike Grier, who finished a check against the boards on Aaron Johnson even though Johnson's back was to him. Johnson did not return to the game, but the league determined that Grier's punishment in the game was sufficient.

The Sharks out-shot Chicago 17-2 in the first period, but coach Joel Quennville made adjustments that helped his team get the Sharks out of rhythm for most of the rest of the game. The final shot tally was 40-26 thanks to a late flurry of shots in the third period and overtime.

In a side-note, Sharks fans booed former Shark Brian Campbell each time he touched the puck. Campbell left San Jose for a big payday in Chicago, but I believe the source of fans' ire was that Campbell never really gave San Jose a chance to re-sign him.

He said he wanted to play closer to home, which is Ottawa. Had he signed with the Senators, perhaps that would have been more understood, but I think fans felt misled that the team, in giving up Steve Bernier and a first round pick, was going to be considered for re-signing, especially in light of Campbell's friendship with alternate captain Joe Thornton that dates back to childhood.

Before the game, Campbell visited and had dinner at the Thornton home, where he had stayed in his brief time with the team. He said fans had been good to him and he enjoyed his time in San Jose. Apparently, these facts were not enough to even entertain offers from the team, who by all appearances made re-signing the star defenceman a priority.

However, I personally do not hold anything against Campbell, and here's why: Had he stayed with the team, there likely would have been no other changes to a blueline that was obviously not enough as it had been outplayed three seasons in a row. There simply would not have been enough money left over to trade for Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich and also may not have been enough to add Rob Blake.

I still believe that Campbell, who has comparable skills to Boyle and is bigger, is a better overall defenceman. But even had the team been able to add Blake, possible only had they traded Rivet and Carle anyway, the differences between this year and last would be Campbell and McLaren vs. Lukowich and Boyle. With McLaren available in the event of a long-term injury to the blueline, there is no doubt this year's unit is better.

While Soupy was only here briefly, he proved to general manager Doug Wilson that a more skilled blueline worked better, and his leaving opened the door for Wilson to upgrade the unit. Sharks fans should thank Campbell for the time he was here and then for saving the team money by not giving them a chance to match the over-sized contract offered by Chicago so they had to go in a different direction.

San Jose plays Dallas Friday at 5:30pm PST at American Airlines Center.

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