By Allan Muir
Quick hits — every one of them clean — on Chicago’s 5-3 comeback win in San Jose Tuesday night:
• First, the controversy. If you haven’t seen it, take a look at the play that earned San Jose’s Andrew Desjardins a match penalty for intent to injure.
Here’s the way I see it: Chicago’s Jamal Mayers exposes himself by turning to look for the pass as he’s cutting through the middle. You gotta keep your head up in the trolley tracks. Desjardins leans in with his shoulder and makes primary contact with the shoulder of Mayers, who crumples to the ice.
So it’s not a head shot. But do his feet leave the ice prior to the hit? I don’t think so. His back foot, maybe, but it looked to me like it was in the act of taking a stride, not leaping.
A vicious hit? Definitely. But “contact with the head with intent to injure”? Not a chance. This hit was as clean as they come. So yeah, I think the officials blew the call.
Of course, I’m saying that after having seen multiple angles in repeated viewings, so it’s tough to point fingers on this one. At full speed, it was very, very close and I’m guessing that the violence of the collision and Mayers’ slow recovery led the officials to err on the side of caution.
• The match penalty was quickly rescinded post-game, according to Kevin Kurz of Comcast SportsNet
That’s the right decision. Full marks to the league for taking care of it promptly.
• I’m guessing some Chicago fans weren’t happy to see Duncan Keith go after Desjardins in the aftermath of the hit, but he had to drop the gloves. It was his suicide pass that exposed Mayers in the first place, so he owed him that much. Losing your top blueliner for 19 minutes in a key game might seem like a no-win, but there’s a galvanizing effect when a player not normally known for dropping the mitts (Keith hadn’t fought since 2010) steps in to protect a fallen teammate. His willingness to step up and take a beating in that situation is the sort of moment that can turn a good season into a magical one.
• You had two of the top-three defenses in the NHL matching up, including one that has given up just two first-period goals all season. So of course they exploded for six goals in the opening stanza, including four in an 89-second span. You’d like to spread the blame for the sloppiness that led to that outburst, giving a fair share to the defenders who failed to handle their assignments, but honestly, five of those were on the goalies — including all three allowed by Corey Crawford. Chicago’s ‘tender has been dynamite this season, but he allowed a big rebound that led to Joe Pavelski’s opener, and then was sniped twice because he was playing too deep in his net. Antti Niemi wasn’t much better at the other end, failing to track the puck on Chicago’s second and third markers. Both settled in, but the wild start was on them.
• Jonathan Toews looked like a world beater every time he stepped on the ice. He was 17-of-26 on the draw, made a nice play to initiate Brandon Saad’s goal, then stripped the puck from Douglas Murray beside the net before feeding Patrick Kane in front of a gaping cage for the winner. His best play, though, went virtually unnoticed. After winning a battle along the boards, he drove the net. Finding his lane blocked, Toews looked for a target out front, but Marian Hossa had backed out of the slot. His decision: throw it hard off Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s skates and hope for a good bounce. Didn’t work, but it was the sort of play only a truly elite player thinks of.
• Hard to double-check the numbers when I saw Brandon Saad played just 13:41. The rookie made the most of his time, scoring his first NHL goal to initiate Chicago’s comeback, then showing consistent net presence and puck poise. He makes you notice him every shift. It’s just a matter of time before he breaks through in a big way.
• Can’t say enough about the long and short-term vision of Joel Quenneville tonight. He played a hunch that Crawford could get his act together if given a chance, and the netminder was sharp after allowing that third goal. His bolder move though was allowing Saad to continue skating with Toews and Hossa during the past few games. When a rookie isn’t putting up points while playing with those two, it’s hard to justify his spot. Coach Q kept the faith, and he was rewarded Tuesday night.
• The Hawks are now 8-0-2 on the season…and have played just twice in the friendly confines of the United Center.
• Despite the grumblings of Sharks fans, that Desjardins penalty didn’t cost San Jose the game. Lousy defensive play and a sputtering top line did. After scoring 26 points between them in San Jose’s first five games, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau now have just two assists in their last five after being shut out Tuesday night. They weren’t invisible — Marleau was robbed at point-blank range by Crawford’s best save of the night and Thornton had a couple sniffs down low — but they weren’t important players, either. The Sharks have dropped three straight now, and it’s easy to see that skid continuing if the big unit doesn’t produce.
• How top-heavy has the Sharks’ early success been? Tommy Wingels’ goal was the first scored by one of their third- or fourth-liners in 10 games this season. Michal Handzus’ was the second.
• Didn’t notice new Shark Scott Gomez much, but the stats showed that he went nine-of-10 in the circle. A quiet contribution, but it’s best not to expect too much from him.
• By the time the third period rolled around, the Sharks looked like a team that was playing its third game in four nights. Lots of heavy legs out there. The compressed schedule is going to take it out on every team at some point this season. On Tuesday night, it was San Jose’s turn.