CHICAGO – For 17 games, nobody has been able to beat the Chicago Blackhawks in regulation.
Now they own the best start in NHL history all to themselves.
The Blackhawks set an NHL record for the best start to a season, beating the San Jose Sharks 2-1 on Friday night to give them at least one point in their first 17 games.
Rookie Brandon Saad’s short-handed goal early in the third period—and with 3 seconds left on a San Jose power play—snapped a 1-all tie and stood up as the game-winner. Chicago (14-0-3) won its fourth straight game to break a mark set by the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, who earned points in their first 16 games.
The Blackhawks equaled that run Tuesday with a shootout win over Vancouver.
“It’s nice to get another win and make history,” the 20-year-old Saad said. “Our group’s had a great year so far, so we never expect anything less.
“We’re celebrating the win now. I’m sure it will sink in a little bit more tomorrow, but it’s awesome to be part of history.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville also reflected on the record, but not for long.
“The guys should be proud of the achievement, the accomplishment,” he said.” I just think we shouldn’t be happy with where we’re at. We just want to keep trying to get better.”
Saad scored the go-ahead goal after closing in on the left wing one-on-one with San Jose defenceman Brent Burns. After a quick fake, Saad fired a shot from the circle that beat San Jose’s Antti Niemi just under the glove 2:24 into the period.
“I just took him (Burns) wide and tried to get a shot off,” Saad said. “Luckily, I beat (Niemi) glove side. Sometimes power-play guys drop back a little, and I took advantage of it.”
Burns gave Saad too much room on the play, however, according to San Jose coach Todd McLellan.
“I thought that we let a player that wasn’t very dangerous—not because he’s not talented or anything—but a player in a situation that wasn’t very dangerous skate into a primary scoring spot without even challenging him,” McLellan said.
“I’m not sure if our goalie was on the angle or not,” he added, “but I’m disappointed we didn’t challenge him earlier.”
Viktor Stalberg also scored for league-leading Chicago, which has earned a total of 31 of 34 possible points.
Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery made 26 saves to win his fourth straight start and improve to 7-0. Chicago killed all four San Jose power plays, all of which occurred in a span of under 14 minutes late in the second and early in the third periods.
“(The record) is a notch in your belt, Emery said. “It’s special to do something as a group.
“The start of the year is the worst time to do it, I think,” he added. “You’d rather do it at the end, but it’s great.”
Patrick Marleau scored for the Sharks, getting only his second goal in 11 games after getting nine in San Jose’s first five games.
Both Emery and Niemi were sharp throughout most of the game. But a misplay by Niemi led to Stalberg’s goal at 16:40 of the second period, and he seemed fooled on Saad’s score. Niemi stopped 32 shots.
Niemi, who was the goalie when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, also let in a couple of soft goals in a 4-1 loss to the Blackhawks at the United Center last Friday.
Chicago and San Jose faced each other for the third time in 17 days. The Blackhawks defeated the Sharks 4-1 last Friday and 5-3 in San Jose on Feb. 5.
The Blackhawks had a full lineup for the first time since their season opener at Los Angeles.
Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook, forward Daniel Carcillo and goalie Corey Crawford returned from injuries. Seabrook missed Tuesday’s game with a lower-body injury and Carcillo sat out 15 games since suffering a knee injury in the season opener.
Crawford, who sat out three games with a upper-body injury, backed up Emery.
Chicago forward Marian Hossa was back after being hit in the back of the head by Vancouver forward Jannik Hansen on Tuesday and leaving early in the third period. Hansen was suspended for one game by the NHL.
Marleau broke the scoreless tie late in the first period. He connected with 14.2 seconds left to give San Jose a 1-0 lead.
Emery made a point-blank pad save on Joe Pavelski’s tip of Joe Thornton’s shot from left wing, then Marleau pounced on the rebound in the slot. Emery got his left pad on Marleau’s attempt, but the puck barely slid over the goal line.
Stalberg tied it at 1 at 16:40 of the second on a play from the left corner. From a sharp angle and with traffic in front, Stalberg whipped the puck toward Niemi. It struck the inside of Niemi’s left pad near the knee and deflected in.
Saad’s goal 2:24 into the third made it 2-1.
Then Chicago’s penalty killing and alert work by Emery helped preserve the lead.
“I thought we got better as the game went on, each and every shift, Quenneville said. “We certainly got some energy off the penalty kill tonight, none more than getting the shortie in the third.”
Niemi was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:10 left, but Chicago kept the Sharks off the puck and off balance. Hossa missed an empty net in the final seconds.
NOTES: The 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks got off to a 12-0-4 start that season and went on to win the Stanley Cup. … The Sharks played the fifth game of a season-high six-game road trip and are 1-3-1. Chicago C Dave Bolland left the game late in the second period with an upper-body injury and is out day to day. … Despite the compressed 48-game NHL schedule, San Jose played only one game—at St. Louis on Tuesday—since facing the Blackhawks in Chicago a week ago. … San Jose C Scott Gomez and D Justin Braun were healthy scratches. … Former Blackhawks player and current broadcaster Eddie Olczyk, a Chicago-area native, was honoured in a pregame ceremony for being inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.