The Chicago Blackhawks will try to snap a two-game losing streak coming out of the All-Star break when they visit the San Jose Sharks
Thankfully, the Chicago Blackhawks are getting back on the ice tonight to try and wash the taste of two ugly defeats out of their mouths.
After not losing in regulation when leading entering the third period for a few years, the Blackhawks managed to lose back-to-back games in that fashion entering the break.
Not helping matters (although it came in an exhibition) was the Blackhawks looking pretty dead in the All-Star Game, as it felt like they were on the ice for every goal against in a 10-3 Central Division loss to the Pacific.
You won’t find me panicking about what happens in a game guys are just flubbing around at (I know that isn’t the case for everyone), but my point is we need some positive Blackhawks vibes going, and this is a good place to start.
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The Sharks had a six-game win streak going before falling to Edmonton right ahead of the break. The Sharks are one of three realistic favorites to take the Pacific this season, along with Edmonton and Anaheim, and I think San Jose has the best team of those three.
I also like the goal horn at the “Shark Tank” in California, and I was sad to hear they’ve done away with their old goal song. It was basically just an altered version of the “dun dun dun dun dun HEY, YOU SUCK” tune, but last I heard, they’d switched to something else.
Anyway, let’s get on to previewing this game, which features a late start for those in the Central or East time zones.
Chicago Blackhawks projected lineup
Interesting decisions here by coach Joel Quenneville, as he clearly wasn’t happy with what his lineup produced the last two times up. Schmaltz is getting another crack at the top-line left wing, while Hossa resumes activity on the top-line right wing.
While Toews was starting to gain some traction with Hartman and Panik flanking him, I think it’s the right call to at least get him back with Hossa. Schmaltz has looked more confident and more willing to shoot the puck since returning from Rockford, so let’s hope that continues while he’s paired with two veterans.
The third line is an IceHogs special and should really have a ton of chemistry. It’ll be interesting to see what matchups it draws on the road, but if Kero continues his success at the dot of late, it’ll go a long way to getting production from the trio.
The fourth line probably won’t be asked to do much, but it’s far from incapable. If there’s anyone who knows the way the Sharks will play, it should be former Shark Desjardins. Rasmussen has been effective of late, and Panik was just playing on the top line. So it’s a capable threesome.
Since Q refuses to bench Trevor van Riemsdyk despite his poor play, the guess here is Forsling slots in for Brian Campbell or Michal Kempny. Forsling is a smaller guy, so playing against a bigger Sharks outfit on the road would be a dangerous first assignment back. Maybe he doesn’t play at all?
Taking Kempny out of the lineup would be a poor choice, as he has the size and vision to help the Blackhawks’ blue line stay out of trouble. He’s also strong possession-wise, and the Sharks are just ever so slightly better than the Blackhawks in that department.
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San Jose Sharks’ projected lineup
Da Windy City
If there’s two things you need to know about the Sharks, it’s that they have one of the best 1-6 defense groups in the league, and they have some of the best beard action in the league.
The former of those points is obviously more important for the Blackhawks to address. Burns get a lot of attention for getting off upwards of 300 shots per season and making quite a few of them count, but his blue-line teammates are also solid.
Four of these six guys turn in Corsi-for marks better than 50 percent at even strength, and the two who don’t, Vlasic and Braun, aren’t exactly slacking at 49.02 and 48.14 percent, respectively, while drawing 42.5 and 38.8 percent offensive-zone starts, respectively.
And a possession-strong defensive group leads to better offensive chances, which is especially good news for the guys in the top six. The familiar faces are all here and still dangerous, led by Pavelski (42 points), Couture (33) and Thornton (31) — though Burns tops them all with 51 points.
Jones draws the start in net. He’s been alright this season, sporting a .916/2.25 statline, but he’s not exactly unbeatable at home, posting a 13-7-1 record with a .919/2.07 split. This month has also statistically been his worst, as he’s carrying a .907/2.70 mark into the final day of January.
TV listings and prediction
Game time: 9:30 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: WGN 720-AM
Live streaming: CSN Live
Radio streaming: WGN Radio App
Prediction: I don’t necessarily like picking the Blackhawks to win in San Jose, but the Blackhawks usually bring a pretty strong show to their first game out of the All-Star break. I like the way the forwards look in this lineup configuration as well.
My main concern would be how the defense shakes out. There’s a good chance Crow is going to have to stand on his head tonight, and he’s struggled to do so lately.
Still, he’s more than capable of doing it, and I’m going to say he achieves it tonight. Blackhawks take a 3-1 decision behind goals from Hartman, Panarin and an empty-netter from Hossa. Crow makes something like 35 saves.