(Chicago, IL) Nothing makes the road trip as much as a win. Sharks winger Milan Michalek and goaltender Evgeni Nabakov stood out in a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center tonight.
It was a tense game for the Sharks fans in attendance. Despite outshooting the Hawks by a wide margin throughout the game, it wasn’t until there were only 3 1/2 minutes left before Michalek scored the game-winner. San Jose dominated play, using its size to control the puck along the boards, winning physical battles. And yet, the Hawks led after one period. The game could have gone either way until Michaluk put it away.
I prefer laughers, but a tight game that ends in a win is big fun. Having witnessed losses in my last two Sharks road games (Game 2 in the playoffs at Nashville, and a 3-0 sleepy loss in Columbus), any win is a welcome thing.There were plenty of Sharks fans thoughout the United Center, including a college student from Indianapolis’ Butler University sitting right next to me. Very enjoyable rooting for the Sharks with Jeff, and talking hockey in breaks in the action. Lots of friendly folks wearing teal circulating in the corridors between periods, and fun chatting.
I took an interest in seeing the kind of San Jose gear being worn by other fans. Many had jerseys customized with Joe Thornton’s name and number. Surprisingly, the next most popular was #26 and Steve Bernier. I seemed to have the only Cheechoo. There were also a handful of Marleau jerseys. No familiar names from the past, like Nolan or Ricci, as I always seem to see in Columbus.
I’m no fan of the new uniforms, so it was gratifying to see so few of them. In fact, one fan wore last season’s black 3rd jersey- get this- customized with ‘Roenick’ on the back, and the #27. Roenick didn’t play for the Sharks last season, of course. She told me she’s a big fan of JR, but no fan of hte new uni’s. We both share the hope that this thing will prove unpopular, and like New Coke, will be replaced with one of the previous designs.
More brief observations:
The Blackhawks really are a poor draw. If the attendence is listed higher than 10,000 it won’t be due to actual fans in seats. It was astonishing to see so many seats open.
Roenick still holds a place in the hearts of Chicago fans. Several wore red jerseys with Roenicks name and #27. JR flipped several pucks over the glass in the direction of younger Hawks fans during the pre-game skate. He came to the glass to smile and wink at a Sharks fan with a sign reading “JR, you look good in teal!” Some fans booed when he touched the puck in the first period, but that didn’t last beyond his second shift.
Chicago has a talented rookie in Jon Toews, who scored his first NHL goal on a great shot over Nabokov’s shoulder. There was a general buzz about him. The Hawks have some young talent, but they are a small team, especially compared to the Sharks. San Jose players were unmoved when hit by the guys in red, and they pushed the Hawks around when initiating the contact.
The Sharks top power play unit hasn’t learned the lessons from last season’s playoffs. Joe Thornton held the puck endlessly, looking for the perfect pass, with play often resulting in the Hawks clearing the zone and without a San Jose shot on goal. The #2 unit got out there, shot the puck on net, created traffic in front of Chicago netminder Nikolai Khabibulin, and scored twice. Ron Wilson needs to crack out the film for study.
First game for Rob Davison, as Doug Murray was a healthy scratch. Looks like these two are on the platoon for the #6 ‘d’ spot. Davison looked sharp, and it was no surprise that he found Marty Lapointe to drop the gloves with, as I’m sure Davison is working to impress so he can stay in the lineup.
First game also for Curtis Brown. He looked to be right at home on the penalty kill with Mike Grier once again.
Matt Carle made two large mistakes on one play. He took a penalty when he held Toews, who had a clear path to the net. Problem was, his hold wasn’t very effective- Toews scored anyway. Former Blackhawk and minor league coach Rick Paterson had a great saying about situations ike this. “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it with authority”. Carle would have done well to simply take Toews down, letting the penalty kill do its’ work.
That’s nitpicking, though. The Sharks won, and sit in a first place tie with Anaheim despite playing two fewer games, all without having played at home yet.
Next Midwest road trip dates:
@ Detroit, Friday, Oct 26, 7:30pm Eastern
@ Columbus, Saturday, Oct 27, 5:30pm Eastern