The headline from Tuesday night’s victory was obvious: in a matchup of the Western Conference’s two best teams, and the two who had started out the 2012-13 season the hottest, the Blackhawks earned a hard-fought victory over the San Jose Sharks, 5-3, at HP Pavilion.
Abridged though it may be, the Blackhawks earned what is arguably their “signature win” of this young NHL season, and made a statement to the rest of the league that no game is truly out of reach for the team.
When you dig into the boxscore of this come-from-behind win, it paints a clearer picture of what a gritty, competitive game the Hawks and Sharks played by the bay, as well as the full team victory it represented.
1 – When asked after the team’s morning skate about how his top-ranked penalty kill would defend the Sharks’ power play unit, Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville said that he expected San Jose to try to put pucks on net. If that was the game plan, it didn’t register on the scoresheet: San Jose registered just one shot on goal with the man advantage. They weren’t given much of a chance either – the Sharks got only one full two-minute power play on the night, Marcus Kruger’s tripping penalty in the second period; Their other two power plays were ended by a Dan Boyle holding call and Antti Niemi’s delay of game penalty in the first and third periods, respectively.
4 – Captain Jonathan Toews is a former Selke Trophy finalist, and his defensive bona fides showed through Tuesday, as he was credited with four takeaways in the game, including the steal on defenseman Douglas Murray, which then set up Patrick Kane’s game-winning goal. Toews now leads the entire league in takeaways, with 12 in 10 games.
6 – Counting Tuesday, the Blackhawks have trailed in six of their first ten games this season; they are 4-0-2 in those games, illustrating just how resilient this team has been to start the year.
“It’s not the start we wanted against the fastest-starting team in the league. Getting the response was important,” said Quenneville. “The guys battled, stuck together and improved as the game progressed.”
8 – Of the 18 skaters who dressed for Tuesday’s game, eight tallied at least a point in the affair, a team-high for the season. Patrick Kane (2G), Brent Seabrook (2A), Marcus Kruger (G, A) and Toews (2A) each recorded multi-point nights.
11 – The number of regular-season NHL games it took for Brandon Saad to score his first goal. Oft-praised by Quenneville and his teammates this season, the 20-year-old rookie finally broke out in San Jose, getting the Blackhawks on the board and stopping the Sharks’ momentum by cutting into San Jose’s 2-0 first-period lead.
“It was a long time coming for him,” Kane said of Saad. “He played great again tonight. He’s fast and gets a lot of chances, especially playing with Johnny and Hossa. He’s been a great addition and I’m sure we’ll see many more from him. Everyone in here’s happy for him.”
17 – Toews was a force at the faceoff dot, winning a game-high 17 faceoffs, and four of six in the defensive zone. The Blackhawks as a team won all four faceoffs while on the penalty kill, as well.
18 – The Sharks are known as one of the Western Conference’s more physical teams, with plenty of size at both forward and defense, but the Blackhawks more than stood their ground, and were credited with 18 hits compared to 23 by San Jose. Only six Hawks didn’t register a hit in the game, one being Duncan Keith, who showcased his toughness in a different way in a fight with Andrew Desjardins.
“We’re a team in here; we stick together,” Jamal Mayers said postgame. “Duncs jumped in there right away and I certainly appreciated that.”
36 – With Keith out for nearly 20 minutes following his fight, the Hawks were left with five defensemen for nearly a full period, but Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson were more than up to the task of filling in for the blue line ace. Seabrook took a game-high 36 shifts in the game, also leading all skaters in ice time (24:37). Hjalmarsson was close behind with 23:20 of playing time, and a team-high 1:56 on the PK.
89 – Within the span of 1:29, just 89 seconds, the Blackhawks changed the complexion of their matchup with San Jose. The score of the game was 2-0 when Saad cut the score to 2-1 at 10:08 of the first period. The Sharks’ Michal Handzus gave his team a two-goal cushion 39 seconds later, but Andrew Shaw answered back eight seconds after that. Kruger finally pulled the Blackhawks back to a 3-3 tie when he found a loose puck in front of San Jose’s net and put it back, 89 seconds after Saad first got Chicago on the board.
10 – The most important number: the Blackhawks have now made it through 10 games, eight of them road contests, without a regulation loss.
“It’s a good start. Hopefully we can continue it,” Kane said. “I think we can even play better, so that’s the exciting part.”