SAN JOSE, Calif. - The Blackhawks wrapped up their four-game road trip in disappointing fashion as they fell to the Sharks 4-2 on Tuesday night at the SAP Center in San Jose.
After trailing throughout the game, the Blackhawks came to life late and narrowed the deficit to 3-2 on goals by Brandon Saad and Duncan Keith, but the Sharks sealed the win with an empty-net goal to snap a five-game losing skid.
The Blackhawks were stymied in their efforts to put pucks on net, finishing with 21 shots - including just three in the opening period - while the Sharks had 32 overall. Tomas Hertl scored the game-winner for the Sharks while Martin Jones got the victory in goal. Robin Lehner was the tough-luck loser despite 28 saves for the Blackhawks.
"We showed some desperation and urgency at the end, probably from the last five minutes of the second period to the end of the game, but obviously, we were down at that point and playing an uphill battle," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. "They had more of the play, but we weren't giving up a ton of high-quality chances, and sometimes that's the recipe on the road. But then all of a sudden we're down 2-0 (on goals by Patrick Marleau and Evander Kane). We did turn it on and get the late goals but ran out of time."
The Blackhawks finished the road trip with a 1-2-1 record. The low points - losses to the Predators and Sharks - sandwiched solid efforts during which the Blackhawks earned a point for taking the Kings into overtime and defeating the Ducks in the extra session.
"I just feel like that's kind of how it's been going for us all year," winger Patrick Kane said following Tuesday's loss. "It seems we take one step forward and two steps back a lot of the time. We're just not consistent enough. It seems like when we play the right way and do the right things we can be a team that can win hockey games. And if we don't then we usually put ourselves behind the 8-ball."
The Blackhawks head back to Chicago having accumulated three of a possible eight points on the journey - disappointing considering a win against the Sharks would have made for a winning trip.
"It was nice to get rewarded, to get some points in a few of the games, but I still think we've got a long way to go," Keith said. "We've done some good things over this first bit of games to start the year, but overall we've got a lot to improve on. Defensively, I think we've made some strides, being able to make a few more plays with the puck coming out of our zone, so that's good. It's just a matter of trying to put it all together here, defensively (and) offensively."
Before the game, Colliton spoke about the importance of righting the ship and consistently winning or the Blackhawks will find themselves well back in the Central Division race.
"We need to stay close to the pack," Colliton said. "We don't feel our game is in a perfect spot and we're going to continue to work at that but … I think we were playing quite well there during that home stretch and we didn't get enough (points). We had to get some points on this road trip to be in that mix."
After the game, Colliton gave his assessment of the trip as a whole.
"We got some points, but we needed more," he said. "(Tuesday night) was a bit of missed opportunity."
The Sharks out-shot the Blackhawks 32-21 for the game and held a 26-8 advantage after two periods.
"There's no doubt … when we do have the puck in their zone (we need to) be quicker to get it to our defensemen and we have to have guys at the net," captain Jonathan Toews said. "I don't think we're doing a good enough job of that so our D-men aren't shooting the puck because they don't see anyone there. A team like San Jose, they do a great job of just throwing it there because they know they have two guys at least going there. If it doesn't go in they get a rebound or it rims around and they get to the weak side. Over and over they're beating us to pucks from those initial shots."
Despite having just three shots in the first, the Blackhawks actually had some sustained zone time in the period but failed to do much with it.
"In the first period … we had our stretches of offensive zone play but we didn't get any pucks to the net," Colliton said. "Whether we had opportunities and we didn't shoot or we tried to shoot and didn't get it through (or it) missed the net. That's what (the Sharks) did. They sent pucks to the net, they get it through and it causes havoc in there, whether it creates a rebound chance or they recover the puck and create a new chance off of that. That was the difference in the first period. It wasn't a huge difference in play or zone time, but they did more with it.
"And then when we were down 2-0, I think they were better," Colliton added. "We had a push at the end of the second period and into the third and I thought it was better, we forced them into some turnovers and created some chances, but we've just got to find a way to generate more early on."
Keith has been logging heavy minutes on the back end this season thanks in part to fellow defenseman Connor Murphy being sidelined with a groin injury.
After skating a team-high 25 minutes, 10 seconds against the Sharks, Keith is averaging 24:51 of ice time - 13th in the NHL - up from 23:01 and 23:50 the past two seasons, respectively.
"He looks like he can play the whole game at times out there," Colliton said. "He loves it, too. Everyone says they want to play more but I think he really seems to thrive off it. Now, can he do it for 82 games? That's maybe not the best situation but certainly with Murphy out he's had to take more responsibility and he's been great for us."
Keith finished with three shots on goal against the Sharks, including scoring his 99th career goal.