CHICAGO -- Early this season, it was the Sharks who looked unbeatable.
But Friday night, the team that started 7-0-0 ended up on the wrong side of history, dropping a 2-1 decision to the Chicago Blackhawks, who set an NHL record by completing the first 17 games of a season without a regulation loss.
Still, it was how the Sharks lost -- on a short-handed goal at 2:24 of the third period by rookie Brandon Saad after San Jose defenseman Brent Burns backed away from the shooter -- that had coach Todd McLellan doing a slow burn.
"I thought we let a player in a situation that wasn't very dangerous skate into a primary scoring spot without even challenging him," McLellan said.
So Burns needed to be more aggressive?
"Absolutely. The average hockey fan can tell you that," McLellan said.
San Jose got its lone goal from Patrick Marleau in the loss that dropped the Sharks to 1-5-3 since their winning streak ended. Viktor Stalberg and Saad provided all the offense Chicago needed to improve to 14-0-3.
While Chicago was in the spotlight and had the most to gain, the Sharks clearly had the most to lose. This was the third -- and final -- meeting between the teams, all in the past 18 days, and after Chicago won the first two, this was San Jose's last chance to show it could compete with the league's best.
But nobody in teal was taking any satisfaction from simply coming close to beating the Blackhawks.
"You never do.
The Sharks held their own in the first period against a Blackhawks team that has shown it can skate circles around any opponent on a given night. And the reward came with 14.2 seconds before the first intermission when Marleau crashed the net and slid a rebound under Chicago goalie Ray Emery's pads for a team-leading 11th goal of the season.
But Chicago tied things at 16:40 of the second period when Stalberg carried the puck down the left sideboards and threw it toward the crease from behind the goal line. The puck caromed into the net off goalie Antti Niemi, who took responsibility for the bad break.
"I should be tighter on the post there when he goes behind the goal line," Niemi said.
While the Sharks' power-play ineffectiveness continued with an 0-for-4 performance, the goal by Saad was the first one San Jose has given up short-handed.
Burns backed off from Saad as he came through the Sharks zone along the left sidewall, and the Sharks defenseman said after the game that he was trying to keep the Blackhawk away from the net.
"I cut into the middle so he wouldn't come into the middle. I tried to force him wide. That's pretty much how I saw the play," Burns said.
Even then, it took a well-placed shot by Saad that bounced off the far post and into the net to beat the Sharks. And Niemi blamed himself for that goal as well.
"I should have the shot anyways," Niemi said, noting Burns didn't get between himself and Saad. "He didn't screen me and sometimes when they try to go there hard, they screen. It's my shot."
The loss bothered the Sharks because they felt they were still in the game after two periods.
"We talked like it was right there in the second intermission, but for whatever reason we didn't bear down and they scored the short-hander," Joe Thornton said. "It just killed us."
And McLellan, once again, wasn't taking very much comfort in the fact his team did a better job of skating with the Blackhawks than it did a week ago in a 4-1 loss.
"We lost. It's not what we came here to do," he said. "We'll look for positives in it, but it's still a loss at the end of the night, it's still two points that we won't get back. The effort was much better, the battle was better. But we still only scored one goal and we gave up the winner on the power play, so we should all be a little unhappy."
San Jose's record dropped to 1-3-1 on its season-long road trip that winds up Saturday in Dallas.
"You know what? We can sit there and bang our heads against the wall night in and night out. We've got to try different units, different pairs," McLellan said. "I thought the last two games, we were a little more dangerous. There were some pucks going to the net that had a real good chance of going in. We'll continue to work on it."
Sharks (8-5-3) at Dallas (8-8-1), 5 p.m. CSNCA