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At the Rink: Sharks at Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- If there's one thing that upsets Joel Quenneville most, it's when his Chicago Blackhawks fail to capitalize in games that should end with points.

In the past, the Blackhawks coach refers to those games as "leaving meat on the table."

Heading into a game against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday at United Center, Quenneville's team has left behind far too many scraps.

Chicago has lost three straight games at home, the first two by 1-0 scores, and coughed up a 2-0 lead Friday in a 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, who scored all three goals in the last 4:57 of the second period.

Blackhawks mistakes led to all three, including an ill-timed decision by defenseman Brent Seabrook to pinch up too far and create a 2-on-1 that led to the first goal.

"We're playing the right way, we're doing all the right things, then we make a mistake and it led to three quick goals against us," Quenneville said a day later. "That time of the game, at home, that situation, it can't happen. [We've] lost three home games in a row. Totally unacceptable how you give away six points. We feel we probably should have had six points in all the games."

Neither the Blackhawks nor the Sharks held morning skates Sunday, but Chicago featured more new line combinations during practice Saturday. Veteran right wing Marian Hossa skated on the third line, centered by usual fourth-liner Marcus Kruger and opposite left wing Ben Smith.

Did it feel strange to Hossa?

"You can say that, but I just do my usual thing and obviously Joel is trying to find a chemistry," said Hossa, whose production (two goals and four assists) is down from his usual high standards. "First of all, I'd like more from myself offensively. Things are not going as I'd like, but sometimes things happen like that and you just face it and deal with it, and just go from there."

It's still early, but the Blackhawks head into the game Sunday trailing the Sharks by three points for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Despite controlling puck possession in nearly every game, often by large margins, they're sitting on a pedestrian record.

They're 3-3-0 in their first six games at United Center, where things are usually tougher for opponents, and looming at the end of the month is the daunting annual two-week "circus trip" to western Canada and the west coast.

"We're definitely not happy," said Seabrook, who heaped the brunt of blame for the loss Friday on his own shoulders. "We've given away games ... games where we could've gotten at least a point. You look at the way we've played, we haven't played our best, but we've definitely been in a lot of games. The guys in the room, we have to look at ourselves. We have to be better in certain situations to get those points and get those games won."

Right wing Patrick Kane said there's plenty of hockey left, but also mentioned the Blackhawks are dealing with some motivational issues after winning the 2013 Stanley Cup and losing to the Los Angeles Kings in overtime of Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference Final.

"It could probably be better, that's for sure," Kane said. "I think sometimes you play in these playoff series, there's so much at stake, sometimes you come back to the regular season and the games don't [seem to] mean as much, which isn't the way it should be at all. It's the total opposite."

Look no further than Chicago's latest Stanley Cup title. The Blackhawks started 2012-13 with a 21-0-3 record, outworking a number of opponents late in tight games. They played with desperation normally reserved for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and continued the effort in the postseason.

Opponents are flipping that around now. It's up to the Blackhawks to respond.

"The regular season should be so important to get yourself in that position to have that chance of accomplishing something," Kane said. "Obviously, we're not doing that right now. It's frustrating for sure. You have one good game and the next one is a dud. It just seems to keep going like that. [We've] got to figure it out here sooner rather than later."

Here are the projected lineups:


Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Matthew Nieto

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels

Tomas Hertl - James Sheppard - Tyler Kennedy

Andrew Desjardins - Adam Burish - Tye McGinn

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Mirco Mueller - Brent Burns

Matt Irwin - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi

Alex Stalock

Scratched: Barclay Goodrow, Scott Hannan, John Scott

Injured: Mike Brown (hand), Raffi Torres (knee)


Kris Versteeg - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Brandon Saad

Ben Smith - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa

Peter Regin - Brad Richards - Jeremy Morin

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Trevor van Riemsdyk - David Rundblad

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Michal Rozsival

Injured: Patrick Sharp (knee), Daniel Carcillo (knee)

Status report: Quenneville said Carcillo continues to do skating drills and remains on schedule to return during the Blackhawks' road trip in the last two weeks of the month. ... Quenneville hasn't been shy about mixing and matching his forward lines during games, so watch for that to happen against the Sharks if things aren't going well.

Who's hot: Burns is having quite a start to the season for the Sharks. After scoring two goals in San Jose's four-goal third period Saturday to defeat the Dallas Stars, he's averaging a point a game (six goals and nine assists). Five of those goals were scored in the Sharks' past seven games. ... Richards has two goals and two assists in the past five games for Chicago.

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