Chicago Blackhawks Look to Get Back on Track with Tough Matchup Against the San Jose Sharks

Feb 22, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) faces off against San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture (39) during the third period at the United Center. The Blackhawks beat the Sharks 2-1. The Blackhawks set an NHL record for scoring at least one point in 17 consecutive games to open a season. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing 7-2 blowout, from the Nashville Predators, the Chicago Blackhawks will have their work cut out for them, as they try to get back to their winning ways, against the San Jose Sharks, who are coming off a 3-game sweep of Western Canada.

Games Played
Goals
Assists
Points
Penalty Minutes
Plus/Minus
Corsi For Percentage(relative to team's CF%, when player is not on the ice)
1514530+2+9.0%

Statistically, the Sharks are one of the few, if not the only team, that seems to have the upper hand, over the Blackhawks.  Traditionally  the Sharks have sort of been an anti-Nashville, in a way, with a high-powered offense, and a soft defense.  This season, the offense has been where it’s expected to be, if not better, and the defense has improved mightily to a near elite level.  The Blackhawks have been as good as they come, offensively as they control the puck with an world-class offense that lights the lamp with the best of them.  However, unlike the Sharks, the Blackhawks have allowed a copious amount of goals.  The Hawks’ success comes from puck possession, clutch goaltending and relentless offense that overcomes it’s defensive collapses.  The Sharks’ success comes from the same places as the Hawks’, but they have allowed far fewer goals, than the Hawks.

The Sharks are perennial contenders that always fizzle out, come playoff time.  They are off to a great start, once again, this season, but as I mentioned before, this time they’ve tightened up defensively.  The way the defense has tightened up is the way the Sharks are controlling the puck, most of the game.  It’s as if they have stolen a page out of the Hawks’ strategy book, and are executing it remarkably well.  San Jose is lead by Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Coutoureand Patrick Marleau up front, along with rookie sensation Tomas Hertl.  Goal scoring, puck hogging forwards have propelled much of the Sharks’ success, this season, the remaining success comes from former Hawk Cup winning goaltender(As if you hadn’t been reminded of this a zillion times, by now) Antti Niemi.  

The Blackhawks have growing concerns in net, following a blowout defeat that doesn’t happen very often.  Starting goaltender, Corey Crawford has been shouldering an absurd workload, this season, due to the struggle of backup Nikolai Khabibulin.  Now, Khabibulin is hurt, and is going to be out for “a bit” according to Head Coach Joel Quenneville.  The Hawks have called up Antti Raanta to replace the injured Khabibulin, which raises more uncertainty.  It remains to be seen how much of a share of the workload, Raanta will receive, as the Hawks front-office was hoping he would spend more time in the AHL to adjust to North American hockey.  Perhaps it will end up being a blessing in disguise, but right now, it is uncertain, but one thing is for sure, Crawford’s continued success is more crucial to the Hawks, now, more than ever.

Outside of the questions, in net, the Hawks have been great, all season.  Patrick Kane continues to find his name on the score sheet, night after night.  Brandon Pirri has been scoring at a consistent rate, as was expected from the rookie, however his defensive game is still developing, although there has been progress.  Duncan Keith has chipping in points, like crazy, from the blueline, and may be in contention for his 2nd Norris Trophy, if he can keep this up.

The Blackhawks vs. the Sharks is fire vs. fire.  This is an excellent matchup of  perennial Western Conference juggernauts, but something has to give.  Will the Sharks continue to streak of road success?  Will the Blackhawks shrug off last night’s brutal blowout loss?  Tune in and find out, or grab your Blackhawks tickets to see it live.  Either way, it should be a great game!

Topics: Antti Niemi, Antti Raanta, Chicago Blackhawks, Corey Crawford, Preview

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