SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Chicago Blackhawks felt good coming out of their victory against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night.
Sure, winning the game was a big part of it. But it was as much to do with how the Blackhawks played as it was the end result. They were playing their style of hockey, rolling all four lines, getting contributions from everyone and playing as strong defensively as on the other side.
Now the task is continuing that type of play, starting with the San Jose Sharks tonight. On paper, the Blackhawks could add to the Sharks’ slump; San Jose has lost three in a row and has scored just one goal in those contests. But you never want to take the Sharks lightly, especially at home where they’re an impressive 19-3-3 this season.
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So as we bask in the pleasant temperatures here in the Bay Area and send warm thoughts back to our suffering folks back in Chicago, let’s look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Blackhawks-Sharks game.
1. It’s all about the start. As we said above, the Sharks are desperate for goals. They won’t be shy in firing at will. The Sharks average just over 35 shots a game and had 59 – yes, 59 – in their loss – yes, loss – against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night. As coach Joel Quenneville said this morning, his team will have to be ready for the potential onslaught. “The way they compete and start games, even though they didn’t score against Edmonton, they did everything but. They have a lot of weapons, they attack and they have a good power play. We’ll have to be ready to start, have our minds in the right place. The most important part of this game is going to be the first 10 minutes.”
2. Continue what you’re doing. Again, Wednesday’s game in Vancouver was symbolic of how the Blackhawks have played most of the season. They’ve got four more games on this road trip, which Patrick Sharp said is “kind of like a little playoff week.” The Blackhawks want to keep playing like it is. “We played a whole three periods. We gave up the first goal but we took over (after that),” Michal Handzus said. “We needed not only the win but needed to play our game, our style, and we did that.”
3. Keep the power play going. The Blackhawks’ power play broke out of its doldrums in a big way on Wednesday, with Marian Hossa’s 5-on-4 goal sparking the rest of their second-period scoring onslaught. They’d like to keep that going, but it’ll be no easy task against San Jose. The Blackhawks’ road power play is second overall in the NHL, and the Sharks’ home penalty kill is third best in the league.
4. Beware the Joes. By this we mean Thornton and Pavelski. The two have had their scoring fun against the Blackhawks in their careers (Thornton has 45 points in 43 career games against the Blackhawks while Pavelski has 21 points in 25 contests). If the Sharks break out of their scoring skid, count on those two guys to be at the forefront.
5. OK, it’s pick-to-click time. Let’s go with Brandon Saad. He’s been strong throughout this season, no matter if he’s been on the left or right, and he’s coming off a nice game in Vancouver. We think it continues tonight.