The Chicago White Sox were winning ugly in 1983. Thirty years later, their Windy City hockey counterparts -- the Chicago Blackhawks -- are winning smugly.
Not a conceited or arrogant kind of smugly, but rather with self-assurance and confidence from a team that genuinely feels it will not be denied each time it steps on the ice.
No matter what their opponents throw at them, the Blackhawks continue to be the best team in the NHL in this lockout-shortened season -- by far.
Chicago remained the only undefeated team in regulation play in the NHL this season, improving to 11-0-3 with yet another impressive performance Friday night at their United Center home, a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.
The Blackhawks have earned a point in each of their first 14 games, a franchise record, and are now tied with the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens for the third best season-opening point streak in NHL history.
The Anaheim Ducks hold the overall league record of 16 (2006-07), while Edmonton had 15 points to start the 1984-85 season, a mark that Chicago can tie Sunday against the visiting Los Angeles Kings.
The game was a contrast of sorts: Chicago keeps winning while San Jose, which started the season with seven straight wins, has now gone winless in its last seven games, falling to 7-4-3.
“It’s been different things, different nights,” Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said of his team’s recent struggles. “Let’s face it, tonight one team was fast, moved pucks (and) attacked. Another team bobbled pucks, misplayed them and was slow. Simple as that. We haven’t been that way in all seven games.”
With starting goalie Corey Crawford out with an upper body injury, backup Ray Emery shined in the net for Chicago, earning his fourth win of the season (against no losses). Emery turned back 27 of San Jose’s 28 shots on goal.
“It helps when you have a lead and the guys are playing well defensively,” Emery said. “For the most part, we sorted it out really well.”
But Emery’s play was only part of Chicago’s overall performance. Perhaps still feeling a lingering sting from Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Anaheim, the Blackhawks came out fast and furious in Friday night’s game before 21,894 partisan fans.
“We talked about getting pucks to the net and second opportunities,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said. “We followed the plan and were rewarded.”
With an aggressive offense and crisp defense, Chicago appeared far superior than the struggling Sharks. Nowhere was that more readily apparent than in shots on goals, as Chicago outshot the visiting Sharks 37-28.
But that number is somewhat deceiving as the Blackhawks not only opened a 2-1 lead in the second period, they carved a huge dent in the Sharks’ defense, outshooting San Jose 17-8 in the middle period, including an overwhelming 15-3 edge at one point.
“I don’t even think we should talk about scoring from our end of it tonight because we didn’t give ourselves a chance to,” McLellan lamented. “We were too slow, execution was poor and the other team was much better.”
Niklas Hjalmarsson helped key Chicago’s attack with his first goal of the season in the third period, as well as an assist, a performance that was equaled by Marcus Kruger. The other Chicago goals came from Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw.
And even though they didn’t find the net, Duncan Keith and Jamal Mayers proved to be strong set-up men, each tallying two assists apiece.
“Everything was good tonight,” Chicago center Jonathan Toews said. “[Bolland’s goal] just set the tone for the night. ... Last game [against Anaheim], we couldn’t close out that one-goal lead we had and tonight we were determined to finish the job.”
Bolland (fifth goal of the season) and Kruger (third) staked the Blackhawks to a 2-0 lead with respective goals in the final minute of the first period and a little over three minutes into the second period.
Of note on Kruger’s goal was the freakish play that led up to it. Ex-Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi made a huge mistake, as a slap shot by Mayers’ bounced off the left side post. Niemi blindly went to his left, apparently thinking the puck went in that direction.
As it turned out, the puck actually went to Niemi’s right and an alert Kruger quickly flicked the loose puck into a wide open net.
“[It] seems like when you’re slumping a little bit, the bad bounces just find their way into the back of the net and they did tonight,” Sharks center Joe Thornton said. “We just have to keep working. We’ll work our way out of this and that’s all we can do.”
San Jose’s lone goal of the game -- Tim Kennedy’s first of the season -- came less than two minutes after Kruger’s tally. That would be it for the Sharks, who were clearly outplayed from the opening faceoff until the final horn of the game.
Third period goals by Shaw (third) and Hjalmarsson gave Chicago extra breathing room, allowing the team to coast to a relatively easy win.
“We’re really comfortable in our own end and our goalies have just been playing unbelievable so far,” Hjalmarsson said. “And I think we’re doing our job as D-men back there too, and our forwards are backchecking hard, getting pucks deep and scoring goals. There’s not much to complain about.”
Notes: Crawford missed Friday morning’s skate, prompting the Blackhawks to call up Henrik Karlsson from the team’s AHL affiliate, the Rockford (Ill.) IceHogs. Karlsson was acquired Jan. 21 from Calgary for a 2013 seventh-round draft pick. “(Crawford) is out for today, day-to-day, upper body,” Quennevile said. “(He) didn’t feel great (after Thursday’s) practice. That’s where he’s at.” ... Two members of the Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup-winning team are now with the Sharks: Adam Burish and Niemi. ... San Jose still has a commanding 42-28-5-7 record in the all-time series with Chicago.
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