Nov 21, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; San Jose Sharks right wingBen Smith
(L) and centerTomas Hertl
(LC) and defensemanBrenden Dillon
(RC) congratulate defensemanPaul Martin
(7) after Martin scored a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Sharks won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Blackhawks at San Jose Sharks: Wednesday, 9 p.m. (CSN Chicago, NBC Sports Network)
A fake Wednesday Night Rivalry game for NBC Sports is our gain, as this should actually be a fun matchup. The Sharks have been in a mode of uncertainty in recent years, and they decided after last season that firing coach Todd McLellan was the answer. Peter DeBoer was brought in, and the Sha-arks have responded well.
A six-game win streak has the Sharks temporarily alone on top of the Pacific Division with 26 points at 13-8-0. Not surprisingly, the big guns are most of the reason for this. Joe Pavelski was first to 20 points with 12 goals and 8 assists, while Jumbo Joe Thornton is doing his thing at 3 goals and 11 assists. Patrick Marleau also has 7 goals and 8 assists. But Joel Ward and Brent Burns have also been key contributors so far, as each has 8 goals and 9 assists through 21 games.
A host of youngsters fills the rest of the lineup and is mostly still looking for traction, at least on the offensive end. Tommy Wingels will be mentioned 80 times on the CSN broadcast because he’s a “CHICAGO BOY,” and Tomas Hertl appears to be slowly coming into his own. Unfortunately, former Blackhawk Ben Smith hasn’t seen much playing time (four games) this season, but maybe he’ll get a game against his former club.
Martin Jones has proven the Sharks right for gambling on him despite being a career backup until this season. Though the six-game win streak certainly helps, Jones’ overall numbers are solid. He’s at 11-5-0 with three shutouts, a .929 (!) save percentage and a 2.02 goals-against average. Getting shots on this guy should be the key focal point for the Blackhawks, as the more shots a goaltender sees, the less likely numbers like that are going to hold true.
Nov 21, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Anaheim Ducks defensemanCam Fowler
(4) talks with defensemanJosh Manson
(42) against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Blackhawks at Anaheim Ducks: Friday, 4 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)
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I thought the starting time for this game was very odd, until I remembered it was the day after Thanksgiving. A good day-after viewing option for the masses. Or at least it looked that way when it was scheduled.
While the Blackhawks have struggled out of the gate, the other half of the 2015 Western Conference finals matchup has had an abysmal start. The Ducks are 7-10-4, leading to speculation Bruce Boudreau could be on his way out as a kneejerk reaction. The team’s offense has been dormant all season, scoring just 38 goals in 21 games. With the offense we saw in last season’s playoffs mostly unchanged this season (Matt Beleskey is out, but that’s the only major change), it’s incredible the Ducks have struggled so much to put the puck in the net.
Corey “Lord Voldemort” Perry leads the charge with a paltry (for a team leader) five goals and seven assists. Ryan Getzlaf, who is admittedly more of a Thornton-helper type, has just a goal to go with eight assists. The next three names on Anaheim’s points list: Sami Vatanen, Rickard Rakell and Shawn Horcoff. Wow.
Of course, this means Hits Machine Ryan Kesler is struggling mightily after getting a hilariously bad contract in the offseason, as he is last on the team in plus/minus at minus-10. Offseason acquisition Kevin Bieksa has also been an unmitigated failure, so that’s funny.
The goaltending behind the Ducks has been pretty porous as well. At the start of the season, Frederik Andersen and Anton Khudobin just weren’t getting goal support. Now, they’re not playing very well either. Andersen is at .914 and 2.54, while Khudobin boasts numbers of .917 and 2.43. A weak defense in front of them, led by … Cam Fowler (?), certainly hasn’t helped matters for those two.
Nov 22, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; Los Angeles Kings forwardAnze Kopitar
(11) is congratulated by teammates forwardJeff Carter
(77) and forwardMilan Lucic
(17) after his 3rd period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-3. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings: Saturday, 9:30 p.m. (WGN)
Probably the most interesting game of the three and we can’t get a national station to pick it up. Bleh. The Kings are still right around the top of the Pacific Division and could be tied with the Sharks for its lead by night’s end, as they take on Florida tonight. The Blackhawks own a United Center win against the Kings already this season, but I’d say the Kings are the more-impressive team at this point in the season.
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The Milan Lucic Show is working out well in L.A., as he’s tied for fourth on the club with 11 points. Seven players have 10 points or more, led by Jeff Carter’s 19 (9 goals, 10 assists), so balance has been the story for the Kings. It’s helped them collect a 12-8-0 record through 20 contests.
A defense with some interesting names has come together well enough to support the NHL’s second-most-pouty goaltender, Jonathan Quick, on a nightly basis (Tuukka Rask earns the top spot until he retires). Only Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin have played in all 20 games on the blue line, but Christian Ehrhoff, Jamie McBain and Brayden McNabb have somehow pieced together the rest of the unit into something competent. McBain and McNabb probably benefit from great McZone starts, but if it works, it works. Doughty and Muzzin have also been effective offensively as two of those seven with 10 or more points.
Quick, like Crawford for the Blackhawks, has been satisfactory but not great. Quick holds .910 and 2.47 numbers going into tonight’s matchup, and with a game Wednesday against Tampa Bay looming, those numbers could be slightly worse before Saturday’s tilt against Chicago.
My continued predictions about the Blackhawks’ success at the beginning of each week have fallen flat, but I can’t stop believing they’ll break out of their early-season stupor sooner rather than later. Somehow, the easiest matchup of the week is probably in Anaheim, especially considering the game will start at a somewhat normal time for the Blackhawks. Getting L.A. right on the backside of that game is a tough draw, and hopefully the Blackhawks can at least grab a point from that. I’m not sure what to expect in San Jose, but the Blackhawks have been known to bust some streaks, so it’d be a good time for that. I’ll say the Blackhawks earn either four or five points this week, but we’d all love six.