qAfter playing in one of the more boring games in recent memory Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks head right back to the ice tonight for a tilt against the San Jose Sharks. After playing in Buffalo yesterday, however, the Blackhawks will play host at the United Center tonight.
These teams last met in the middle of Chicago’s circus trip last month, with San Jose just getting off an extended road trip itself. The result was a letdown for the Sharks in the Shark Tank, as the Blackhawks walked out with a 5-2 victory. San Jose started the season strong but is now, along with much of the Pacific Division, wading through relatively mediocrity.
The Sharks are coming off a loss to Ottawa on Friday and are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. Still, because the Pacific is so terrible, San Jose’s 33 points in 32 games is good for second place in the division.
Let’s look at the projected lineups for tonight’s game, starting with the Blackhawks.
The only change from yesterday against Buffalo should be Darling starting in net, as Crawford took the call yesterday. Darling hasn’t seen a whole lot of action lately; his last outing saw him on the wrong end of a 5-1 loss to Nashville 10 days ago, though the score wasn’t totally indicative of his play (AKA the team around him provided little assistance).
Joel Quenneville doesn’t like to change his lineup after a victory, so expect Brandon Mashinter to stay in the press box. It wouldn’t be totally out of the realm of possibility for David Rundblad to slot in for one of Scuderi or Rozsival, as playing those latter two on both ends of back-to-backs could spell trouble. But we know Q isn’t a huge Rundblad fan, so he’ll probably just keep going with what worked yesterday.
It’s nice to see the forward lines being left alone for awhile, especially with the top trio. Teuvo said after Saturday’s game that he, Toews and Hossa get more and more comfortable with one another each consecutive game they’re together. If a 21-year-old can realize this helps the offense, hopefully Q will see it as well.
On to the Sharks.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun
Other than Logan Couture being sidelined, the Sharks are relatively healthy. But being stuck in their “do we want to go young or don’t we” phase their past couple seasons hasn’t done them any favors. Jones has actually been pretty good in his first career full-time starter gig, posting three shutouts, a .918 save percentage and 2.31 goals-allowed average so far. But the Sharks haven’t been able to consistently support their goaltender, although they do have four players with more than 20 points and one (Pavelski) with more than 30.
One potential switch could come in the form of former Blackhawk Ben Smith, who was removed from injured reserve today. Smith could slot in for Brown, who is relatively useless offensively. Burns is an offensive machine from the blue line (with an intense beard as well), but the defensive unit as a whole is just so-so for the Sharks.
Let’s move on to our three Blackhawks to watch at the Madhouse on Madison.
Dec 19, 2015; Buffalo, NY, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wingDennis Rasmussen
(70) celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres during the first period at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Pretty much the only thing worth noting before the last four minutes of regulation Saturday was a sick individual effort by Rasmussen to score Chicago’s first goal. Rasmussen held off Evander Kane, who isn’t exactly a tiny guy, for a solid stretch of ice and just flicked the puck past Chad Johnson. It was a solid play from a guy whose time with the team was probably automatically extended by Marcus Kruger‘s injury. Plays like that certainly don’t hurt his chances of sticking around, though. Yesterday, I thought Bickell would break through for his first goal of the season. The third line looks strong right now (when Shaw isn’t taking dumb penalties), and I think Rasmussen can make a big impact today with Coach Q getting to choose matchups.
Dec 17, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wingTeuvo Teravainen
(86) celebrates with teammates after scoring against the Edmonton Oilers during the second period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Teuvo started yesterday’s game firing at the net, taking a push from Toews that he shoot more and not pass up good opportunities just to get the puck to his linemates. Teuvo led the first line in shots with three, while Hossa had just one and Toews was held shotless. With Teuvo now getting a steady chance at this first-line left wing role, he’s embracing his abilities as a playmaking talent on offense. He’s also getting better with limiting his turnovers and making smart decisions at both ends of the ice. Look for this to continue today against a Sharks group that seems to be absolutely average at most everything.
Danault was on the ice for Crow’s gaffe outside the net yesterday, but he had a fine season debut for the Blackhawks, recording a shot on goal and winning 64 percent of his faceoffs. He seemed to mesh well with Garbutt and Desjardins on the fourth line, and it was a pretty noticeable trio against the Sabres. Garbutt wound up with five shots on goal, somehow leading the team in that category. These things tend to start with the centerman, and Danault and his linemates could be the beneficiary of good matchups selected by Coach Q today. But he showed no real weak points defensively, which is pretty important for his position on this team. He gets test today with a bigger Sharks unit that has a few more playmakers than the Sabres boast.