It’s been a bit of a sore spot these past few games for the Chicago Blackhawks: They love how they’ve scored goals, but they haven’t been thrilled with how many they allowed.
On Sunday night, they were looking more like their defensively stingy selves.
Patrick Sharp scored twice, the first the game-winner and the second a penalty shot, but it was the Blackhawks’ defense that was key in their 5-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center. The Blackhawks, now 14-3-4, jumped to the top of the Western Conference standings.
The Blackhawks were smarting over Saturday night’s 7-2 loss to the Predators. They didn’t talk about it much; didn’t need to. But they did make sure to correct one big problem on Sunday.
“The one thing we did talk about was our compete level could be much higher than it was in Nashville,” Sharp said. “It was tonight, and that’s a big reason why we won.”
Yes it was, and in every facet. Defensively, however, was the most improved area. The Blackhawks limited the Sharks to 24 shots on goal, a low total for a team that’s had 30 or more in their last four games. They also kept the Sharks quiet in the third period, where San Jose had outscored opponents 21-12 entering tonight’s game.
“I mean they came out hard, and we talked about that as a team, that they always do,” said Duncan Keith, who was a plus-2 on the night. “We were able to weather that storm. We got skating better as the game went along and were able to use our speed to advantage.”
The offense did the rest. Kris Versteeg had his first goal and assist in his second stint with the Blackhawks. Jonathan Toews and Brandon Pirri also scored.
“We got better each and every period,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We tried to limit their time and space and tried to kill their attack game, and our's got better as the game went on. (Saturday) wasn’t indicative of how we’ve played any game all year. We were looking for an easy game, and we didn’t pay Blackhawk-type hockey. You have a few of those over the course of the season, but we had a good response immediately.”
Like we said, the Blackhawks didn’t talk much about that bad game in Nashville. Still, it was motivation for tonight.
“You don’t want to be outplayed like that and lose battles like that in back to back games,” said Corey Crawford, who stopped 23 of 24 in the victory. “It was important to come in here tonight and win most of the battles. That was a solid game for us, after coming off a disappointing loss like that.”
Saturday’s game was an anomaly for the Blackhawks, a deviation from their usual disciplined, organized game. It happens. But outings like Sunday night happen more.
“I don’t think any team likes to get beat like that. But sometimes, whether you’re not there mentally and all of a sudden it snowballs, next thing you know the score’s as high as it was,” Keith said. “But we just moved on, put it behind us, and did a good job tonight.”
Khabibulin to LTIR
Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who suffered a lower-body injury in Nashville on Saturday night, was placed on long-term injured reserve on Sunday. A player can be placed on LTIR if he suffers an injury that will cause him to miss at least 10 games and 24 days.
Putting a player on LTIR can provide a team relief if its cap payroll begins to exceed the upper limit.
— Andrew Shaw had a season-high seven hits.
— Toews now has six points (three goals, three assists) in his last six games.
— The Blackhawks are now 11-0-3 when scoring first.