Daily Herald
Sharks' Nabokov stonewalls Blackhawks in 3-2 loss
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 12/22/2009 9:49 PM | Updated: 12/22/2009 10:56 PM

It's not easy finding cracks in the Blackhawks' game, but the power play would be right at the top of that shortlist.

While ranking a respectable 12th in the NHL, the Hawks had the 24th-best power play at home before Tuesday night's game against San Jose, and its inconsistency at the United Center was on display again in a 3-2 loss to the Sharks.

Not only was the power play 0-for-7, the Hawks allowed a short-handed goal by Joe Thornton in the second period that made it 2-0.

"They scored short-handed and certainly we lost momentum on it," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was a pivotal goal as well."

The Hawks outshot the Sharks 47-14, but most of them were easy for goalie Evgeni Nabokov to see.

"We put a lot of pucks on net, which is what we want to do, but we still need to have guys going to the net for rebounds and guys in front of the net when we're shooting," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "That might help."

Dany Heatley's goal that opened the scoring at 3:18 of the first period was nearly short-handed as well, coming three seconds after the Hawks' first failed power play.

"Our power play is not where we would like it to be," winger Marian Hossa said. "We created some shots, but they played well penalty-killing. We couldn't settle the puck and they were all over us.

"We just have to be more poised with the puck and trust each other more on the power play and create more quality chances. We have to make sure we know where to be under the pressure."

Thornton's short-handed goal on a 2-on-1 came at 5:10 of the second and resulted from a bad Kris Versteeg giveaway. Versteeg tried a pass across the ice in the neutral zone that was picked off by Joe Pavelski.

Quenneville was asked if that was a pass Versteeg shouldn't attempt.

"No. If it's completed he can attempt it," Quenneville said.

Versteeg took only a handful of shifts the rest of the game and played less than 11 minutes.

Trailing by 2 going to the third period, Patrick Kane's goal at 4:10 energized the Hawks and the UC crowd, but the Sharks took the air out of the building by answering 20 seconds later.

Jason Demers beat Cristobal Huet from between the circles on a 3-on-1 after Brent Seabrook was caught up the ice. Seabrook was minus-3 for the night and partner Keith minus-2.

The win by the Sharks, their third in a row, put them back in first place in the Western Conference by 2 points over the Hawks.

"We kind of stole one tonight," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We didn't have the puck a lot and Chicago won most of the battles. (Nabokov) won the game for us."

The Sharks also avenged their 7-2 loss to the Hawks at home last month.

"They had a chip on their shoulder and came out and played a good strong game," Hawks winger Troy Brouwer said.

"We knew they remembered that game and they were going to come out and play hard on us," Hossa said. "We outshot them, but we couldn't create the top, top chances. We tried to shoot from bad angles, but their goalie played well."

Tim Sassone's game tracker

Sharks 3, Blackhawks 2

Three stars:

1. Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks: Excellent in a 45-save performance in goal.

2. Joe Thornton, Sharks: A short-handed goal and an assist for the NHL's leading scorer, now with 51 points.

3. Marian Hossa, Hawks: The best player on the ice for his team with a goal and assist in 23 minutes.

Key stat: Not only did the Hawks have 47 shots on goal, they missed the net 13 times on some quality chances.