Blackhawks set NHL record for best start, repelling Sharks 2-1
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org February 22, 2013 11:24PM
Brandon Saad (right) celebrates with Patrick Sharp after scoring his goal during the third period against the San Jose Sharks on Friday. The Blackhawks won 2-1 and set an NHL record by recording a point in their 17th consecutive game to start a season.
Updated: February 23, 2013 1:16AM
They’ve got a pair of seemingly unbeatable goaltenders, a penalty-killing unit that’s so effective that taking penalties somehow seems to help, a deep roster that’s just now reaching full strength, and now the record for the longest season-opening point streak in NHL history.
That’s all well and good. But the Blackhawks are getting greedy. They want more.
‘‘There’s no looking back now,’’ said Viktor Stalberg, who had one of the goals in the Hawks’ 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center on Friday night, their record 17th straight game with at least a point to start the season. ‘‘We want to keep winning. And if we keep playing the way we have been, we’re in a good spot to keep winning.’’
Brandon Saad’s shorthanded goal 2:24 into the third period — at the tail end of the Hawks’ third straight successful penalty kill — was the difference on the scoreboard. Saad filled in for the injured Dave Bolland (upper-body injury, day-to-day) on the PK and wound up beating Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi with a wicked shot from the left circle, hesitating just enough to freeze Niemi before firing the puck past him on the far side.
It wound up being a history-making shot — not bad for a rookie who barely made the roster out of camp as a just-in-case injury stopgap.
‘‘It felt great,’’ Saad said. ‘‘We’re celebrating the win now. I’m sure it’s going to sink in a little bit more tomorrow, but it’s awesome to be a part of history.’’
Saad is just one of the many success stories during this remarkable start. And again, the two other big ones — Ray Emery in net and Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik on the penalty kill — factored heavily.
Emery made 26 saves in his fourth straight start since Corey Crawford was hurt last Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks, improving to 7-0-0. Crawford is healthy and ready to go, but Emery has at least raised the specter of a goaltender controversy — which is fine with coach Joel Quenneville.
‘‘Those decisions all work themselves out,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘But we certainly like the way he’s grabbed the net here with Crow being out. It’ll be nice to see Crow back in here, as well. It’s a nice situation — no matter who’s in the net, we’re getting real good goaltending.’’
Meanwhile, the Hawks killed off all four Sharks power plays — all of them in a row spanning the second and third periods — sparked by the dynamic duo of Kruger and Frolik, a pair of offensive guys who’ve repurposed themselves as penalty killers extraordinaire. The Hawks have killed off 55 of 62 power plays this season.
And once again, it was the penalty killing that sparked the offense. The Hawks looked sloppy and sluggish in the first period, falling behind 1-0 on Patrick Marleau’s goal with 15 seconds left. But the first kill of the game woke up the Hawks, and Stalberg immediately scored, banking in a shot off Niemi’s feet from behind the goal line with 3:20 left in the second period. Then came Saad’s shorthanded goal at the end of another kill.
‘‘Kruger and Frolik are just on fire out there,’’ Emery said. ‘‘A lot of it’s just battle. They just outwork guys. Teams don’t have much of a chance out there.’’
So far this season, which is more than a third complete, nobody seems to have much of a chance against the Hawks. But as they keep reminding giddy fans, a knee-jerk media and would-be Stanley Cup etchers, there’s a long way to go.
One way or another, this is only the beginning.
‘‘It’s great — it’s a notch in your belt,’’ Emery said. ‘‘It’s special to do something as a group. But the start of the year is the worst time to do it. You’d rather do it at the end.’’