Blackhawks shut out by Niemi, drop 3rd straight

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Blackhawks shut out by Niemi, drop 3rd straight

SAN JOSE, Calif. The Blackhawks were a much better team on Wednesday night. They were smarter, they were tougher and they were stingier.

Unfortunately for them, the opposing goaltender was just a little bit better.

Antti Niemi collected his first shutout of the season again his former team, as the Sharks edged the Blackhawks 1-0 at HP Pavilion on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks, missing Brent Seabrook for the fourth consecutive game and giving up 14 goals in their previous two games combined, were much better defensively.

For them, it was a start in the right direction.

Thats the standard for how we want to work, Jonathan Toews said. Were not happy with the result but were not going to let that hurt our confidence. We played the way we were supposed to play. Every guy was making predictable plays to the next guy. When you do that, team game flourishes.

Coach Joel Quenneville said shoring things up defensively being more responsible around the net, keeping quality chances down was the focal point.

Thats the way we wanted to play going into that game: play tight defensively, make sure the pucks ahead of us, he said. I thought we checked well and they got the fortunate bounce and scoring first was the difference. But if we play like that well find a way to get points.

The Blackhawks stronger defensive game was evident from the start. The Sharks werent getting much time in the Hawks zone, and when they did they didnt stay there long. The Sharks had just 11 shots in the first two periods combined.

The Sharks lone score came when Jason Demers power-play goal deflected off Toews and past Corey Crawford, who stopped 20 of 21.

It was a weird bounce, Crawford said. I thought it was going to stay on the ice but it just kind of jumped up.

Only problem was the Blackhawks couldnt get anything on the other end despite tons of time in the Sharks zone and 34 shots on goal. Credit Niemi for that frustration, as the netminder was stoic against his former team. Niemi came up big throughout the night, from his stop on Bryan Bickells breakaway early to denying Toews late.

He made big saves back there; we had a couple good opportunities to put a few by him. Im sure that was a big win for him, said Patrick Sharp. Weve had success against him in the past and well see him again in the future. Overall, it was just two good teams playing a pretty good 60 minutes on both sides.

The Blackhawks certainly arent happy that they lost their third in a row. They werent happy they couldnt get one past their former teammate. But they regained their defensive game. If they keep that better game, it will lead to better results.

Obviously you want a couple of points from this game. But when we we lose games like this we can take those, said Niklas Hjalmarsson. Its nothing like we lost in Edmonton and Calgary. At least today we had a good effort. If we keep playing like this well get points.

Briefly

Duncan Keith played a game-high 29:18, firing six shots on goal and blocking three shots.

Patrick Kane had a team-high seven shots on Niemi.

Michael Frolik returned to action after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury. He played just over 11 minutes.

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”